While there are many things that can cause neighbour disputes, it is always best to maintain good relationships where possible. To do this, it is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are when it comes to common issues such as trees, noise and fences.
Trees: Rights and Responsibilities
Your responsibilities as a neighbour
As registered owner of land, you are responsible for caring for and maintaining the trees and plants (including dead ones) on your land. This includes trees that are mostly situated on your land and includes the whole tree extending both below ground and above ground.
You are responsible for taking any action required to ensure that trees on your land do not or are not likely to seriously injure anyone, seriously damage a neighbour’s land or property or unreasonably interfere with a neighbour’s use and enjoyment of their land.
If you need to enter your neighbour’s land to remove encroaching branches or roots, you should give your neighbour written notice stating what you intend to do and when. If they refuse you entry, you must respect their wishes and take some alternative form of action such as mediation or applying for court orders.
Your rights as a neighbour
As a neighbour, you have the right to use and enjoy your land. You can request that the owner of a tree take action to remove a tree or parts of a tree if:
- in QLD: it is obstructing your television reception, solar panels, sunlight from entering windows of your home (where branches are more than 2.5 metres high) or your view;
- in NSW: it is a hedge over 2.5 metres high which obstructs sunlight;
- in all States: it has roots or branches which are causing or may cause damage to your property;
- in all States: it is posing or may pose a hazard to persons on your property; or
- in all States: it otherwise reasonably or substantially interferes with you or your property.
Taking action yourself
If your neighbour refuses to take action, you are allowed to prune limbs or roots of the tree back to the boundary line, unless there are preservation orders in place protecting the tree. You should check this with your local council and your neighbour before commencing work. Anything that is cut off the tree (i.e. branches and fruit) should be returned to the neighbour for their use or disposal, unless they are happy for you to dispose of them yourself.
Getting court orders
If the parts of the tree that need to be removed are on your neighbour’s side of the fence, and your neighbour refuses to take the required action, you can apply for court orders. To do this, the tree must be located on land that adjoins your property (including diagonally) and must be wholly or predominantly on the adjoining land. This will usually mean that at least half the trunk enters the ground on the adjoining property.
A court can make orders requiring your neighbour to take action to:
- fix the problem,
- compensate you for damage that has been caused by a tree on their property, or
- prevent damage from occurring to property or person that is likely to be caused by a tree that is on adjoining land.
You generally cannot get court orders in respect of trees on council land.
In Victoria and Western Australia, such an action is based on nuisance which requires that the tree “unreasonably or substantial interfere with you or your property”.
However in Queensland and New South Wales, specific legal channels have been created to deal with tree disputes.
The key bodies to start proceedings in are:
- QLD – QCAT (Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal)
- NSW – Land and Environment Court
- VIC – Magistrates Court of Victoria
- WA – Magistrates Court of Western Australia
Fences: Rights and Responsibilities
Where fences sit on the boundary line between properties, they are mutually owned by each neighbour. Where the fence lies on one neighbour’s land, it belongs to that neighbour, even if the cost of building it was shared with the adjacent neighbour. Both neighbours are liable to pay half the cost of maintaining the fence.
Building a new fence
Where a new fence is to be constructed, both neighbours are liable to pay half the cost of constructing the fence. If one party wants additional work done, in excess of what is necessary, they should reasonably pay more.
Agree to build a new fence
If you intend to build a boundary fence, you should try to come to an agreement with your neighbour regarding the style, materials and height of the fence, the timeframe in which it will be constructed, who will build it and how much each party should contribute.
Service notice of your intention to build a fence
If you don’t feel comfortable discussing this with your neighbour, you can serve a formal notice of your intention to fence on your neighbours. Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia all have specific forms for this purpose that can be downloaded online. The notice should be accompanied by at least one written quotation for the cost of constructing the fence.
If you can’t resolve a fencing matter with your neighbour, you can:
- Seek legal advice from a lawyer who may be able to help you negotiate an outcome.
- Book a mediation session with your neighbour through a local dispute resolution centre.
- Apply to your relevant State court or tribunal for an order:
- QCAT (Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal),
- NCAT (NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal),
- Victorian Magistrate’s Court,
- Western Australia Magistrate’s Court.
Noise: Rights and Responsibilities
Your responsibilities as a neighbour
If you are making noise, you must adhere to the laws of your local council about quiet times. Otherwise, you may be issued with a fine.
Prohibited Noise Times by State
|Type of Noise||New South Wales||Victoria||Queensland||Western Australia|
|Motor vehicles, electrical power tools, lawn mowers, pool pumps, generators, impacting tools, drills, sanders, etc.||8pm – 7am Monday to Friday. Before 8am and after 8pm weekends & public holidays.||8pm – 7am Monday to Friday. Before 9am and after 8pm weekends & public holidays.||6:30pm – 6:30am Monday to Saturday. Anytime on Sunday or public holidays.||7pm – 7am Monday to Friday. 9am – 7pm weekends & public holidays.|
|Noisy parties, musical instruments and sound equipment||12 midnight – 8am Fridays Saturdays or night before public holidays. 10pm – 8am all other days.||Monday to Thursday before 7am and after 10pm. Friday before 7 am and after 11pm. Saturday and Public holidays before 9 am and after 11pm. Sunday before 9 am and after 10pm.||10pm – 12pm depending on local council. (Police will take loud music complaints 24/7).||Music not audible inside neighbours home after 10pm.|
*Different times and noise levels apply to licensed musical sporting and entertainment venues. Individual councils may have different timetables in place than what is displayed.
Animal Noise / Barking Dogs Neighbour Disputes
In Queensland, barking dogs or noise from other animals can be deemed a nuisance and attract on-the-spot fines if they occur:
- for more than 6 minutes in an hour between 7am and 10pm; or
- for more than 3 minutes in half an hour between 10pm and 7am.
In Victoria, complaints may be made about animals that are “often noisy” or unreasonably disturb the peace.
In NSW, you may be able to get an abatement order in respect of ‘offensive noise’. ‘Offensive noise’ is noise that by reason of its nature, character or quality or the time made, is harmful to a person or unreasonably interferes with a person’s comfort.
In Western Australia, ‘nuisance barking’ is an offence. However, there are no specific guidelines that defines nuisance barking.
Your rights as a neighbour
If your neighbour is causing unreasonable noise, you can make a compliant. In some situations, the relevant agency will intervene and impose a penalty. However, you should try to discuss the situation with your neighbour in person before making a complaint.
Different agencies deal with specific noise complaints. However, in most states, the following applies:
- Dogs, household and building noise are dealt with by the local council.
- Parties, loud music, alarms and rowdy behaviour are dealt with by your relevant state police.
- Noisy vehicles and trail bikes are dealt with by the state Department of Transport and Main Roads.
- Native animal noise is dealt with by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
For ongoing noise issues, you can also undergo mediation with your neighbour at a free dispute resolution centre.
General tips for resolving neighbour disputes
- Stay on good terms and be friendly with your neighbour as this will help you to discuss matters amicably when they arise.
- Always consult your neighbour about any matters that may affect them prior to taking action.
- Try to discuss matters with your neighbour face to face.
- Once you have reached an agreement, get it in writing.
- Act quickly to resolve any disagreements before they escalate.
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