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Can You Sell A House With Tree Root Damage?

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You have accepted an offer; a surveyor has valued your house at £0 because of the neighbouring tree causing damage.  Your buyer instructed a tree surgeon to carry out a report which recommends some channels that need to be dug to stop tree roots from getting into your foundations.

Damage has been done to your foundations, and now cracks are appearing.  The tree surgeon’s report stated that your neighbour is liable for the damage.

Now, the mortgage company won’t lend the money, the property sale has collapsed, and you risk losing your dream home and the house going back on to the market. You have spoken with your neighbour, who won’t kill the tree in a phased way as recommended in the report.

You now have a dispute with your neighbour and can’t sell your house with tree root damages, so what happens next?

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What are the worst trees for subsidence?

Often, tree roots can cause both direct and indirect damage. Direct damage is caused when roots exert pressure on structures like drains, foundations, and paths. Indirect damage is caused when roots draw water from clay soil, resulting in subsidence and heaving in nearby structures.

Even trees not encroaching on property boundaries can contribute to this effect. The costs of remedial works can be substantial, so you may need to consider claiming compensation for tree root damage.

To remedy the cause, it’s important to factor in the cost of underpinning or rebuilding, as well as reducing the size of the tree. A smaller tree will mean less water drawn from the soil, as it has fewer leaves to transpire.

Any tree of significant size has the potential to cause damage, but some types of trees are more problematic.

These include willow trees, which love damp conditions and can extract up to 1,000 litres of water daily from the soil; oak trees, with shallow spreading roots that can wreak havoc on house foundations; poplar trees, which grow fast and have invasive roots; and ash trees, which are fast-growing deciduous trees with a wide root spread.

How do you prove a tree is causing subsidence?

Your assumption that the tree roots belonging to your neighbour are responsible for the damage to your property is not enough. You must prove it. In the legal world, this is known as ‘causation’.

Other factors outside of the tree roots can cause a similar type of damage, such as faulty construction or subsidence caused by something else.

Even if the roots are the cause, it may be discovered that they are from a different property, or even your own. Keep in mind that tree roots can spread a long distance.

Often, claims need experts from multiple fields to help both parties and the court. For example, an arboriculturalist (tree expert) can tell if the tree in question was a factor in the damage or not. The Arboricultural Association can help you find one.

You may also need a surveyor and/or a structural engineer to report on the extent of the damage and the repairs needed. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) can help find a surveyor, and The Institution of Structural Engineers can help you find a structural engineer.

Your property disputes solicitor can also recommend experts to you.

Who is liable for tree root damage
Other factors outside of the tree roots can cause a similar type of damage, such as faulty construction or subsidence caused by something else.

Council owned trees causing damage

Many claims involving tree root encroachment often involve council-owned trees harming nearby private property. Local authorities are legally obligated to have a regular program of inspection and upkeep for “their” trees.

This makes it much simpler to prove that they were aware of the possibility of damage compared to a case against a private individual.

Your claim should be successful if the Court approves that:

  • The damage was reasonably foreseeable, and
  • It was caused or significantly contributed to by those tree roots.

Who is liable for damage caused by a Neighbours tree?

Where tree roots cause harm to a nearby property, the tree owner may be held accountable under the law of nuisance for such damage.

Claims related to damage caused by tree roots are made under the law of nuisance, even when the roots have invaded the neighbouring land.

Compensation for tree root damage

If the damage is ongoing and the owner of the tree(s) refuses to take corrective measures, you can apply to the Court for an injunction to ‘abate’ the nuisance.

This would compel your neighbour to take steps to prevent further damage, such as felling the tree(s) or managing it appropriately.

In addition to any injunction, your claim would involve compensation for rectification works, such as underpinning, repairing cracks, rebuilding walls and paths, or relaying sections of a drain.

To support your claim, you will likely need evidence from a surveyor and/or a structural engineer, as well as comparative estimates of the cost of the work.Diminution in value of property

In addition, you may also have a claim for the diminution in value of your property. Typically, this occurs where the property is ‘tainted’ by subsidence. Essentially, selling for the same value as it would without the history of subsidence becomes more difficult.

Another consideration is future insurance, which will almost certainly carry a significantly higher premium, even if available.

Can You Sell A House With Tree Root Damage
If the damage is ongoing and the owner of the tree(s) refuses to take corrective measures, you can apply to the Court for an injunction to 'abate' the nuisance.

Claiming for subsidence on your buildings insurance

It can be tempting to let your home insurance provider handle a settlement with your neighbour or the local authority.

However, they are only concerned with the policies that are covered by the insurance. So, it is unlikely that they will be able to help with any claim that would reduce the value of the property.

It is important to notify your home insurance company as soon as you know about the potential claim. Most policies will have a clause that requires you to report any potential claim within a certain timeframe.

If you do not report it in time, your insurance company has the right to deny any claims. This can leave you in a difficult situation if you need to redirect the claim to the insurance company.

An example of this is when an investigation reveals that the claim against your neighbour is not likely to succeed.

It is a good idea to get independent advice about whether or not you have a claim for a decrease in value. Your insurance company will not pay for this advice, but you should weigh the expense of getting the advice against the potential of getting a claim for a decrease in value, which can be as much as 20% of the property’s value.

No matter what your neighbour tells you, you are not obligated to file a claim with your home insurance. Many people start by consulting a specialist property disputes lawyer.

Sell house with tree root damage

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