Oak tree felling & heave

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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 moisture demand.
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.
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[snip]

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 your responsibility.

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.
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Tony Williams.

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wrote:

my point exactly. They want it down. Tell them you have no money. Let them pay for it. mike
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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.
.andy
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David L wrote

David
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 prevent this.
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.
Good luck Peter (who has handled more subsidence claims than hot dinners!)
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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).
AJH
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Andrew Heggie wrote

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 further damage.

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.
Peter
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peil" and have declined to make any comment or get in volved in the matter.
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Sounds very odd - check the policy carefully *now* :-}
I`d also suggest uk.legal on this one, see if there`s any sensible input there...
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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 unstable.
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.
AJH
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Many house insurance policies include free legal advice - i`d check your policy and start calling before doing anything drastic...
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On Sun, 18 Jan 2004 08:57:30 -0000, "David L"

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.
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David L wrote:

Yes and no. This will slow the pricess down, but not actualy stop it happening.

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.

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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.
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IANAL
For someone to have built so close to such a large tree is asking for trouble...
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.
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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 writing.
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 there.
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the reply in the thread from Ronson was from me but I was using someone elses PC - sorry to confuse
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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 "temporary" nature...
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
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Ronson wrote:

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 neighbour,
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.

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Ronson wrote:

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
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