Help where do I start?
Have a healthy mature (guiessed as 250 years old) oak on my property. It is
allegedly causing subsidence problems for a neighbour, after many months of
monitoring movement the neighbours insurers have insisted on the complete
removal of the tree. Local authority have (reluctantly) agreed to
relinquish it's TPO status and have written to agree removal. However in
their letter their Building Control man has highlighted the potential for
future heave caused by the clay subsoils swelling after removing the
This leaves me with a number of questions:
Would it be better to remove tree in stages - canopy this year, main trunks
next year, stump year after?
Should I get some technical engineering survey done for best advice - who
should I look for in the telephone directory?
Should I seek legal advice before persuing?
Is removal a diy job or should I get an expert in - the close proximity to
several properties means the tree will need to be removed very slowly from
the top down rather than felled - sounds expensive.
Perhaps you should write a letter to your neighbours
noting that the tree was there before their house was
built and is now being removed only at their specific
request. Any consequential problems are therefore not
I would thinks so, particularly since there is an
insurance company in the background on the other side.
Professional job, someone carrying liability insurance.
BTW: This is being done at the neighbour's request, and
they are the sole beneficiary of the removal of the tree.
So why aren't they (or their insurance company) paying
for the full cost of professional removal.
Legal advice on this point may save you money.
On Sun, 18 Jan 2004 10:09:17 +0000 (GMT), Tony Williams
Agree with all of that. Another point is that if the tree is decent,
there may be some timber of some value in it, so worth contacting a
sawmill as well? Either way, in the cost of felling, I would have
thought there ought to be an allowance for the value of the oak.
To email, substitute .nospam with .gl
Firstly, don't feel pressurised or alarmed about this. The legal situation is
that if next-door's-insurers feel your tree is responsible for causing damage,
they have to first put you on notice of such before they can claim against you.
Having received this notice, it is then your choice what you do about it - you
are not compelled to fell the tree just because they say so. However, having
been put on notice, if any further damage occurs you will normally be held
liable. This situation is normally covered by your own buildings insurance
policy, and next-door's-insurers are probably expecting to negotiate this
problem with your own insurers.
If your house is built on shrinkable clay subsoil then there is a high risk of
causing much more serious damage if the tree is felled, so I strongly advise you
do nothing to the tree for the time being. Subsidence damage caused by trees
virtually always occurs at the end of summer, so you have a little time to
gather evidence and advice. The amount of soil shrinkage depends on its
shrinkability and its moisture content, which is extremely variable from year to
year, depending on the temperature and rainfall and on the size of the tree and
the amount of leaves. The risk of further damage is quite high if we have
another very hot dry summer this year, but simple pruning of the tree will
The first thing to do is to notify your own insurers of the situation. At the
very least they should appoint a Loss Adjuster to come and inspect. They may
well appoint a Structural Engineer or Surveyor. These experts will advise your
insurers what needs to be done, but they don't always represent your own best
interests so if you feel unhappy with them at any stage you may need to appoint
your own consultants. You should be entitled to do this under your policy, even
though insurers sometimes discourage it.
I would also strongly recommend you get a report from an Arboriculturalist (a
professional tree expert), who will advise you on the best method of dealing
with the tree. I would expect them to first confirm that your tree is actively
drying out the soil and that its roots are actually present near next door's
foundations. If not already available, I would also expect them to require a
soil survey to test the moisture content and "shrinkability" factor. I guess
you should first look up Arboriculturalist in Yellow pages or on the web. If
this is fruitless, your local Planning Office will have a Tree Officer who can
probably give you some names.
Peter (who has handled more subsidence claims than hot dinners!)
On Sun, 18 Jan 2004 11:13:34 -0000, "Peter Taylor"
I won't comment much on specifics but agree with Peter.
The problem is a building having been built with inadequate
foundations. The expertise required is that of a structural engineer
rather than arboriculturalist. Run a google on uktc and search the
archive. There has been a recent test case in London which set the
precedent (and it was one I did not expect).
Yes, I guess you are referring to Westminster City Council v Delaware Mansions.
Here the Mansions suffered serious subsidence damage in 1989 caused by the roots
of a tree in the public highway in front of the property, owned by the council.
The insurers of the Mansions formally notified the council of the damage being
caused by the tree, but they failed to do anything about it for over 2 years.
It was this inaction that eventually led to them being successfully sued for the
cost of the repairs.
The important issue established here is that if you take prompt action to abate
the nuisance after receiving a formal notification, you will NOT liable for the
damage, even though it has already been done. But if you do nothing then you
could be liable and, what's more, if you don't inform your insurers there is a
threat they will back out and not support you. The best advice, as I stated
previously, is to notify your insurers immediately you receive such a warning.
They will take control and they cannot blame you and back out if there is any
Yes, but an Arboriculturalist will be the best person to consult about the tree,
which was the subject of this thread. The insurers will appoint an Engineer.
On Sun, 18 Jan 2004 14:52:52 -0000, "Peter Taylor"
That's the one.
It's an interesting judgement and not one I am, in any way, qualified
to comment on. I believe the issue is whether the nuisance is
actionable. In common law the neighbour is entitled to abate the
nuisance of a plant transgressing the boundary by removing the
trespassing bits, because the nuisance is not actionable he cannot
reclaim costs. I have not seen any precedence set where this has
occurred, roots have been cut, and the tree subsequently proved
The op is put in the position that he is required to bear the cost of
work, yet there is the prob^H^H^Hossibility that the tree is not the
nuisance. Indeed even with the tree gone a dry summer could cause the
same problem. I would think a qualified person could treat with the
neighbour over cost of work (i.e. removal of tree).
It depends on what value the op puts on the tree and cost of removal.
IME a property with a TPO on a large tree is likely to incur large
maintenance costs over time and this might reflect in a property
valuation, so the relaxation of the TPO may not be such a bad thing,
even if it is because the local TO has bottled out.
Arboriculturist and structural engineer on site, armed with foam pugil
sticks and let them fight it out.
Mature oak on a clay subsoil, and they say it's _your_ fault ?
Oaks don't cause subsidence problems anything like as badly as some
other species, certainly not mature ones. Then you say it's on a clay
subsoil and the house is presumably considerably younger than the
tree. You're absolutely right to query the potential for worse
trouble after removing it, and there's good grounds to suspect (and
this is why someone has to go on site to really inspect it) that it's
a foundation problem rather than just the tree.
If it's a question of converting it for timber (which is the only bit
I know the first thing about), phone Wood-mizer in Pocklington and ask
them who their nearest bandsaw mill owner is. They'll either be
interested in it, or know someone who is. It's not worth felling a
single oak for timber, but it is (usually) worth setting the saw up
on-site if it has to be felled anyway.
Die Gotterspammerung - Junkmail of the Gods
Yes and no. This will slow the pricess down, but not actualy stop it
Any tree greater than 15 m in height IMHO shold be left to specialists
with 3rd party liability insurance.
You can to an extent reduce heave problems by planting something water
hungry in its place. However the two best ones - poplar and willow -
are in themselves very prone to cause trouble later on.
Frankly, if you are getting subsidence, its got to go really.
The heave issues? Yes, that may happen. Its worst if you have solid
screed floors actually in contact with the soil, because then there is
nowhere for it to go. Clay is ptretty plastic really, as long as it has
somewhere to expand - e.g. a raised floor - it won't lift the
foundations *too* much, especially if these are deep.
Another possibility is underpinning and/or trenching around the
property, lining with crushable polystyrene, and backfilling with
gravel. This can increase surface draiange and stop the clay getting so
wet, as well as providing at least SOME compressibiility locally.
I would certainly check insurance policy, but then just get the tree
down. That will stop teh sunsidence, and then you will have to wait and
see if heave happens, and how bad it is.
It is actually no bad thing to let it happen, and then simply fix teh
odd crack, knowing that once the moisture level reaches equilibrium, it
will stop. As long as the structural integrity of the house is not
overly compromised, thats enough.
<snip - lots of helpful responses>
Thanks to everyone's suggestions - here's some background:
My property was under-pinned in 1998 (previous owner), records indicate
cause of subsidence was a lilac tree planted against the property wall
undermining the foundations the tree was removed. My property has no signs
of further movement. It is a pair of 35 year old semi detatched the
neighbour with the problem owns the other property in the pair of semi's.
Neighbours problem is with his extension which is only some 10 metres away
from the trunk of the tree. The tree is in the corner of my property so has
a fence within a metre behind it and within 3 metres to the side. The girth
of the trunk of tree is probably about 3.5 metres, the heighest point of the
tree is probably 15 metres, the diameter of the canopy is some 15 metres.
New properties were erected some three metres behind tree in 1970's, I have
seen some evidence of controversy with the neighbour developers and the TP
officer of the LA about removing of roots to rear of tree. I guess that
means the roots are all in my property and my neighbours as the ones at the
rear were chopped away.
First letter I got from neighbours insurers was December 2002, all was
passed on to my insurers, next was a letter in June saying the tree was
cause of extension problems and they had drilled a ground bore and found oak
roots. The TP officer said there was inadequate evidence to do any work on
the tree. In October neighbours insurers provided a momitoring report that
demonstrated the amount of movement, TP officer passed it onto Building
Control and LA wrote a letter saying that the problem was unlikely to be
tree, but because the raft construction used for the neighbours extension
was probably unsuitable considering the clay type and the proximity to a
large mature oak. They also noted that the extension was nearing 30 years
old and were usure of the life expectancy of this type of (temporary)
building. In December 2003 insurers wrote me another letter asking why the
tree had not been removed yet they provided the same report, but this time
(even though it was the same TP officer and same Building Control officer
reviewing the same evidence) the LA have wriiten a letter authorising
removal. The only involvement from my insurance company was a phone call
from the broker saying she had spoke to them and they said it was not an
insured peril so they did not need to get involved.
For someone to have built so close to such a large tree is asking for
Seems unfair to blame the tree for someone only now having a problem when
it was forseeable before the extension was built.
How long ago was the extension built ? - perhaps they should really be
chasing their own surveyor.
Please add "[newsgroup]" in the subject of any personal replies via email
* old email address "btiruseless" abandoned due to worm-generated spam *
in it ;-) ---
According to building control records at the LA the extension was given
building consent and planning permission in 1974, my neighbour has told me
it was a self build him and his late father done it. I guess as it was a
self build then building control should have got more involved than they
did, I guess things were are a bit tighter now than in the 70's. Building
Control records show that the only inspection the extension got was "Final
Inspection " upon completion in 1976. The building control officer
suggested that (from the drawings) the type of construction was a raft type
concrete plate and his opinion was not suitable for the environment, he also
said that the type of construction these days would be considered as
temporary in his opinion it would be extraordinary for this type of
structure to be around more than 15 years. Of course none of this is in
It seems rough justice that this has become my problem when the LA seem to
have been negligent in allowing the structure to go up, they also allowed
the construction of the new dwellings to the rear and the consequential
lobbing of the root system in that direction, all this before I even lived
I wonder what would happen if you could obtain a copy of the original
plans, get them checked over by a surveyor - and pass the blame squarely
back onto the neighbour for having a building of an unsuitable
IANAL... uk.legal might be a good place though - there are a few trolls,
but some useful people on there :-}
There is also uk.legal.moderated but you have to use a legitimate email
address to post to that - it might have some more "considered" responses
Please add "[newsgroup]" in the subject of any personal replies via email
* old email address "btiruseless" abandoned due to worm-generated spam *
Its only your problem because you haven't made enough fuss and caused it
to be someone elses.
They HAVE. Their insures won't pay up, want the thing taken down, and
blaming you is the cheapest way to get it done.
The LA is at fault for not standing by their position.
That's cos they want an easy life.
I suspect they have only said 'we have no objection to it coming down' -
they have not ordered you to TAKE it down have they?
Write a 'robust' letter and send it by registered post to the insurers and your
sympathising deeply with his problem, but maintaining that you cannot be
held financially responsible for the failure of his foundations to cope
with a tree (assuming but by no means admitting that it IS the tree) that
predates the construction of his extension, and which could reasonably
be supposed would not be removed in the timescale that currently exists.
Add furthermore that you have (if this is the case) no objection to the
removal of the tree, provided the cost of this, AND any cosequential
damage to your house and garden (and indeed his extension) by way of
heave and general damage caused by the removal process, up to and
including structural damage caused by heave in the next 15 years, be
underwritten by his insurance company....
My guess is that will frighten them silly, because instead of saving
money, they are now not only having to spend it, but committing
themselves to spending it on a process that may actually incur more
costs and potentially make their clients problems worse.
Things tightened up a lot after the drought of 1976 - IIRC it was
soon after that that the NHBC published their paper which set out
tree height/distance ratios and required foundation depths.
There are rafts and rafts: a lot of the 1930's Wates houses in
New Malden are on RC rafts and movement is very rare. The problem
in the situation you describe is that more often than not the
existing house has substandard (by modern standards) foundations
and probably moves a bit over the seasons. If you put the
extension on rock solid guaranteed not to move footings you'll
probably get differential movement between it and the house, so
it may more economical to use a raft. Either way you do need
movement joints between extension and house
Tony Bryer SDA UK 'Software to build on' http://www.sda.co.uk
Free SEDBUK boiler database browser
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.