By Nicholas Dyson, Aimee Hutchinson, and Ibraheem Dulmeer
Trees are contentious matters for park home owners and site owners. This article considers a Tribunal decision which dealt with a dangerous tree on a pitch.
The First-tier Tribunal in the matter of Ronald J Turner v J J Cooper* determined that it is the site owner’s responsibility to undertake the removal of a tree within the boundaries of the pitch of a park home owner.
Background to this case
On 12 March 2013, a branch fell off a scots pine tree in the park home owner’s garden. Whilst this was being investigated, another branch fell off and broke the gutter of the park home owner.
The tree was covered by a Tree Preservation Order (“TPO”). A TPO is an order made by a local authority to protect trees which bring amenity to a particular area. One must contact the local planning office before anything is done to a tree with a TPO. It is a criminal offence to carry out work to protected trees (such as cutting or lopping) without consent from the Local Authority.
In this case, the Local Authority granted permission for the tree to be cut down and dispensed with the TPO. Therefore the issue for the Tribunal to determine was who was responsible for the costs of the removal. This is often a contentious issue between site owners and park home owners.
In this case the Written Statement stated that the park home owner agreed to “keep the pitch and all fences, sheds outbuildings and garden thereon in a neat and tidy condition”. The site owner only agreed to keep parts that are not the responsibility of the park home owner in a good state of repair or condition. For example, this includes the communal areas.
Therefore would the removal of a tree in the park home owner’s garden extend to the park home owner’s obligation to maintain the pitch in a neat and tidy condition?
The site rules for this park did not have any rules relating to dangerous trees but the rules did state that trees could not be cut lopped, pruned or damaged without the prior written consent of the park owner. In addition, the site rules indicated that the park home owner was responsible for the maintenance of trees, shrubs and plant life etc. Notably, the site rules did not confine that obligation to those trees on the park home owner’s pitch. The Tribunal held that that rule would therefore probably be void for uncertainty as it was not clear the extent to which that obligation extended..
The Mobile Homes Act 1983 extends the responsibility of the site owner considerably. Chapter 2 paragraph 22(d) states that:
…The owner shall maintain in a clean and tidy condition those parts of the protected site, including access ways, site boundary fences and trees, which are not the responsibility of any occupier of a mobile home on the protected site. [Emphasis added]
At the same time the park home owner must be aware of their obligations, implied by the Mobile Homes Act 1983, Chapter 2, paragraph 21(d) to:
Maintain (i) the outside of the mobile home, and (ii) the pitch, including all fences and outbuilding belonging to, or enjoyed with, it and the mobile home in a clean and tidy condition…
The Tribunal’s view was that one should look at the responsibility of the park home owner first. Once this has been established, the remaining responsibilities are with the site owner. The Tribunal determined that the obligation on the park home owner to keep the pitch clean and tidy does not extend to the removing of a tree which needs to be felled because it is dangerous.
The only mention of trees in the implied terms refers to the site owner being obliged to keep the trees in a clean and tidy condition. The Tribunal used this reasoning to explain that the obligation to remove a dangerous tree would be the responsibility of the site owner, as the pitch and importantly the tree does not belong to the park home owner – but the site owner.
In its conclusion, the Tribunal determined that any ambiguity should be resolved in favour of the park home owner. After all, the tree in question was planted by the site owner or a predecessor in title and thus it will be unfair to expect a park home owner to be responsible for removing the tree.
Following on from this decision, it may be a good idea to contact a qualified arboriculturist (tree specialist) in order to ascertain if the tree is in a dangerous condition.
It is important to note that this decision does not have a binding effect on park home matters pertaining to trees. However, if the tree is dangerous (regardless of whether it is within a specific pitch or in a communal area), site owners may wish to ensure that dangerous trees are removed as soon as possible for two reasons:
- A Tribunal may hold that a site owner is obliged by Mobile Homes Act 1983 to remove the tree; and
- The site owner could be open to damage to property claims and/or personal injury claims from park home owners or visitors to the site.
If you need any further information on Trees in the Park Home context, please do not hesitate to contact LEASE telephone advice line on 020 7832 2525 or Nicholas Dyson Head of the Holiday & Home Parks Team at Blacks Solicitors LLP on 0113 2279 344 or NDyson@LawBlacks.com.
*Please note that the decision of the First-tier Tribunal is not binding on any other Tribunal determination, but may provide an indicator and/or be persuasive. This article is not meant to describe or give a full interpretation of the law; only the courts can do that. If you are in any doubt about your rights and duties then seek specific advice.