Trees, Hedges and Shrubs - Regulations in France
- Minimum Distances
- Overhanging Branches
- Fallen Trees
- Blocked Gutters
- Garden Maintenance
- Dispute Resolution
- Protection of Trees
1. Minimum Distances
There are national regulations that govern the distance from a neighbouring property that trees and certain shrubs can be planted.
There are also local planning regulations that apply in some areas, for which you need to refer to your local mairie.
In the Paris region there is no planning requirement to respect minimal distances in the planting of trees and shrubs, although the general law applies.
The basic law that applies depends on the intended height of the tree or shrub.
If the tree or shrub is intended to grow higher than 2 metres there must be a minimum distance of 2 metres from the neighbouring boundary. If it is intended to grow below 2 metres in height then the minimum distance is 50 centimetres from the boundary.
If you propose to plant a tree capable of growing beyond 2 metres, it can still be planted within 50 centimetres of the boundary, provided it is pruned to remain below this height.
The distance is calculated by measuring at ground level from the middle of the trunk of the tree to the perimeter of the boundary separating the two properties.
Where a property borders a public highway then the minimum distance is 2 metres from the highway, but may be less depending on local regulations and traffic circumstances.
Even though a tree or shrub may not be causing any prejudice, if it exceeds the minimum distances then a neighbour has the right to ask that it be pruned, or even removed in some cases.
There is a 30 year limit on this rule (la prescription trentenaire), which allows the offending owner to argue that if the tree was planted at least 30 years ago, then breach of the rule can be justified.
Despite the law, two neighbours can agree to agree to recognise planting of a tree or shrub beyond the limits, in which case a planting easement (servitude de plantation) is created.
In order for this easement to be binding on subsequent owners it needs to be signed in front of a notaire and placed on the land registry.
In the same way that a right of light can be created through prescription or the creation of new building plots (see above) the same rule applies to trees and shrubs.
2. Overhanging Branches
If the roots of a tree or shrub impedes onto a neighbouring property the occupier has the right to prune them to the limit of their boundary without the consent of their neighbour.
A neighbour does not have the right to cut the branches; they remain the property of your neighbour, and you must request that they are pruned by your neighbour
In the absence of agreement on general maintenance, in the last resort you would need to go to court to force your neighbour to undertake the maintenance work.
If a nuisance is being caused, then the court is likely to be sympathetic to the complaint. An owner is obliged to maintain trees and shrubs that border a neighbouring property, so as not to cause a nuisance.
It is not permissable to pick fruit from overhanging branches from a neighbouring garden, although it is possible to collect them from the ground if they fall onto your land.
The law recognises three rights for those neighbours with a common hedgerow.
First, the right to benefit from fruit and other produce from the hedge. Each neighbour has the right to half the produce, irrespective of whether or not it might fall on one side of the hedge! If the tree should die or be cut then each neighbour has the right to half of it.
Second, each neighbour has the right to require that shared trees are cut, although one of the neighbours cannot proceed unilaterally. Joint agreement seems implicit rather than explicitly stated in law.
Thirdly, in relation to the hedge itself, each neighbour can destroy up to the limit of the hedge on his or her own property. However, if they do this, they can be required to construct a wall or fence in lieu of the missing part of the hedge.
4. Fallen Trees
If the tree of one owner falls into the grounds of an adjoining property then the household insurance of the tree owner will normally cover any damage that may be caused.
However, if the tree was clearly in a diseased state there may be a condition that limits the responsibility of the insurance company.
In these cases they may argue that the owner should have had the tree removed professionally.
The courts have considered many disputes between property owners concerning nuisance caused by shading from trees, resulting in a loss of sunlight.
As a general principle, the courts have taken the view that the owner has no automatic right to an uninterrupted view or to benefit from sunlight through their windows.
Nevertheless, where it can be demonstrated that an owner is deliberately trying to cause difficulties for their neighbour, or where a property has been deprived of sunlight as to be abnormal, then they have found in favour of the complainant.
6. Blocked Gutters
Where leaves from a tree belonging to one neighbour block the gutters of another then, as a general rule, the courts will not intervene as this is considered to be a natural phenomenon, for which no-one can be responsible.
However, if the tree has been planted too close to the property or if no maintenance has been carried out then the court can be persuaded to take a different view.
7. Garden/Grounds Maintenance
There is no law that obliges a property owner to maintain their garden, although there are regulations that require an owner to maintain trees and shrubs that border a neighbouring property.
Accordingly, if you find the view disagreeable, there is very little you can do, unless they transgress into your own property.
In exceptional circumstances the local mayor does have powers to intervene where the problem is one of public health, serious pollution or of grave danger to others. In these cases, a mayor is able to order that the area be cleaned up, failing which the council can act directly, and counter charge the owner. Where the property appears to be abandoned, the mayor can also order an emergency clearing up operation be carried out.
Needless to say, many mayors are reluctant to use these powers, not only because of way they affect private property rights, but also because of the cost to the local council budget.
In many rural (and even urban) areas there are also local regulations under the code forestier concerning the maintenance of property borders in order to limit the risk of fire in forests and woodlands.
Indeed, in these areas there is a legal obligation on owners whose property adjoins a forest or woodland to maintain the border of their property. This obligation applies in the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and in the departments of Ardèche and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
The requirement for 'débroussaillage' also applies to many other areas of the country by specific prefectoral decree.
The purpose of such work is to limit the risk of propagation of a fire by creating a rupture of the vegetal ground cover between the woodland and surrounding areas.
The general requirement is subject to local variation, but states that if your property is within 200 metres of a forest or woodland you are required to undertake débroussaillage to a depth of 50 metres around the house, which may be increased to 100 metres by local regulation.
It also applies along the length of any access drive to the property, to a maximum of 10 metres either side of the drive.
In urban areas the obligation for regular maintenance applies over the total area of the property.
In practice, the law is probably ignored as much as it is observed, with many councils without either the resources or inclination to ensure proper compliance. Much will depend on where the property is located, and it would be unwise to assume that it need not concern you. A fine is potentially payable for non-compliance.The local council can also step in to undertake the work, for which they can impose a charge.
However, it is not merely the risk of a fine that should concern home owners for, in the event of a forest fire in which your property is affected, your insurer may well be unwilling to pay out if they consider that your lack of débroussaillage has been a contributory factor.
There are separate regulations that control the times in a year when garden fires etc are not permitted, with details available from your local mairie.
We wrote an article in our Newsletter concerning these obligations, which contains additional information that may be useful to readers. You can find the article at Obligation of Garden and Grounds Maintenance.
8. Dispute Resolution
Clearly, in the first instance you should try and resolve matters in an amicable manner.
Before you consider legal action, you should speak to your local mayor, as they may be able to speak to your neighbour and resolve the problem.
If not, then you should consider using a conciliation service in your area, about which your mairie should have details.
If a neighbour is unwilling to cooperate then the matter can be heard in a court of law (Tribunal d’instance) without the need to engage an avocat.
If you wish to take this route, be aware that the court will want to see evidence that everything short of legal action has been taken before being brought to their attention.
Try using the services of your local legal advice centre, whose services are often free of charge, particularly to those on a low income. The legal advice centre is called Conseil Départemental de l'Accès au Droit (CDAD).
9. Protection of Trees
There is not extensive legal protection of trees in France, although the Loi Biodiversité du 8 août 2016 amended the Code de l'environment to afford some protection to lines of trees bordering roads, as follows:
« Art. L. 350-3.-Les allées d'arbres et alignements d'arbres qui bordent les voies de communication constituent un patrimoine culturel et une source d'aménités, en plus de leur rôle pour la préservation de la biodiversité et, à ce titre, font l'objet d'une protection spécifique. Ils sont protégés, appelant ainsi une conservation, à savoir leur maintien et leur renouvellement, et une mise en valeur spécifiques. « Le fait d'abattre, de porter atteinte à l'arbre, de compromettre la conservation ou de modifier radicalement l'aspect d'un ou de plusieurs arbres d'une allée ou d'un alignement d'arbres est interdit, sauf lorsqu'il est démontré que l'état sanitaire ou mécanique des arbres présente un danger pour la sécurité des personnes et des biens ou un danger sanitaire pour les autres arbres ou bien lorsque l'esthétique de la composition ne peut plus être assurée et que la préservation de la biodiversité peut être obtenue par d'autres mesures. « Des dérogations peuvent être accordées par l'autorité administrative compétente pour les besoins de projets de construction. « Le fait d'abattre ou de porter atteinte à l'arbre, de compromettre la conservation ou de modifier radicalement l'aspect d'un ou de plusieurs arbres d'une allée ou d'un alignement d'arbres donne lieu, y compris en cas d'autorisation ou de dérogation, à des mesures compensatoires locales, comprenant un volet en nature (plantations) et un volet financier destiné à assurer l'entretien ultérieur. »
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