Question: My neighbour and I are on the verge of taking a dispute over his hedge to court. It's way too high (3m at least), blocking sunlight from my back garden and restricting my view. The district council hasn't been able to explain who's in the right – it's twice sent me leaflets about "resolving disputes peaceably" – but my neighbour just doesn't want to know. Our solicitor has been very unhelpful and I'm at my wits' end – can you help?
WH, West Sussex
Answer: Rows over "high hedges" – the so-called "Leylandii wars" – and difficult neighbours can be addressed via Section 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003).
It hands local authorities – not courts – the power to manage complaints such as yours concerning hostilities, but you must follow a strict code of conduct to stay within the rules. A high hedge is determined as being a line of two or more evergreen (or semi-evergreen) trees or shrubs. Critically, they must be at least 2m high and block light or access to a residential property.
Your complaint should emphasise only the height of the hedge – any problems relating to its roots are excluded from the Act. Given your neighbour's hedge height, you are fully entitled to ask your local authority to intervene. However, it's vital that you have first tried to solve the problem by all other means. The Government's public-services advice website, direct.gov.uk, is clear on this.
Since your neighbour has ignored this, your best bet instead is to "invite [your neighbour] to talk to independent mediators". This involves inviting a third party to your homes to offer solutions and can cost up to £100 an hour – try www.nationalmediationhelpline.com.
If your neighbour refuses to budge despite talks, approach the council directly. It will then decide on whether, according to the Act, the hedge adversely affects your "reasonable enjoyment" of your property.
If it agrees with you, the council will issue a formal notice to the hedge owner detailing what needs to be done to resolve the situation. This usually includes a demand to reduce the hedge's height, within a given time period, and ensure it keeps to a new limit. If your neighbour ignores this, he or she could be fined up to £1,000. Lodging a formal complaint, though, carries a fee of anywhere upwards of £200.