They say good fences make good neighbours. But what happens when a messy tree hangs over those boundaries? Tree disputes are extremely common and Australian property law has a range of legal processes in each state to deal with them.
There are two legal principles at play for this issue:
- The right of a landowner to enjoy their property.
- The responsibility of a tree owner to ensure it is kept neat and safe.
Before you reach for your chainsaw, brush up on your property law knowledge and seek an amicable solution.
Be a good neighbour
Trees can block sunlight, scram television and radio signals, drop debris and even cause damage to neighbouring properties with fallen branches and spreading roots.
If your tree is causing problems in the local area, it is your responsibility to ensure that any trimming or management is done. That is simply part of being a good neighbour.
Tree disputes cut both ways
If you are the neighbour of a property with a problematic tree, it is always a good idea to speak to your neighbour first before taking any other form of action. Most of the time, you can come to a resolution. But if the problem persists, there are several ways to deal with it.
The right to tree abatement
When tree branches overhang your property, you have the right to trim branches and roots back to the property line. This process is called ‘abatement’.
Each Australian state has different guidelines for this, but generally speaking, you are allowed to prune the tree back as long as it’s not excessive – which is usually considered more than 10% of the original tree.
In regard to costs, in some states like Queensland you can recover as much as $300 from a tree owner if you have the tree pruned. Check your local guidelines before commissioning any work.
The tree owner has the right to claim the fruit and cuttings from the tree itself, and you are allowed to return these for disposal. As always, it pays to make the owner fully aware of your intentions to avoid any further tree disputes.
Next steps down the legal path
If a neighbour’s tree causes damage to your property, there are a number of legal avenues you can pursue. However, these can be tricky.
The owner of a tree that has damaged your property through shedding branches may not be liable, unless you can prove negligence on their part. Likewise, with root systems, you have to prove that the tree’s roots are the source of the problem, which involves exploratory work.
When dealing with a problem tree, first speak to your neighbour to try to come up with an amicable solution.
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