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going underground

23 September 2013

A lady in Stanmore has been told to pay £17,000 compensation to her neighbours after the roots of her Cypress hedge caused heavy damage to the foundations of their neighbours home.  (Khan –v- Harrow)

The victims of this underground peril were first made aware of the problem when their walls cracked and parquet floor shifted. They wisely appointed an arboriculturist who pinpointed the neighbour’s Cypress as the cause of the damage and took legal action against their neighbour. The judge said expert evidence established that the Cypress trees had caused damage to their home and that a ‘reasonably prudent landowner’ would have appreciated the real risk of subsidence damage posed by the 30-year-old hedge.

The judge went on to say that, given the ‘dominating position’ of the hedge – the damage to her neighbours’ home was ‘reasonably foreseeable’ by the owner of the offending vegetation, who would have had to spend just £700 to 800 to remove the offending trees.

The judge concluded by declaring that; “I find she failed to take the appropriate steps to eliminate the risk of subsidence damage caused by the roots (of the hedge), and is therefore liable in nuisance for the damage caused by her failure to eliminate that risk.”

The judge awarded the victims compensation for the cost of expert advice, surveys, remedial work and for the “distress and inconvenience” caused by the tree roots’ damage. The total payout came to £17,269.

In certain geographical areas, especially those with clay soils, insurers are losing the appetite to offer cover for subsidence in domestic residences. It is important that when the signs of subsidence appear people obtain the right advice, and act prudently. Subsidence is not always foreseeable, as the root cause (if you will pardon the pun) is underground, but when those first cracks appear it is reasonable to expect that more damage will continue to occur until the cause of the damage is removed. If the Cypress hedge had been removed quickly the loss would have been limited to simple remedial works, and it is unlikely that any of the costs would have been recovered from the owner of the Cypress hedge, as the early damage was unforeseeable. However the owner of the vegetation found herself liable for a nuisance which would have been avoidable had she been more neighbourly and taken early action to remove the vegetation.

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