Most neighbours get along just fine in everyday life, but every now and again there will be disputes. When it comes to the garden, a common cause for disputes are trees, especially if they begin to encroach on a neighbour’s land. Some neighbours don’t like the idea of tree removal, and might be wondering whether legally they need to remove their tree, or whether it can simply be cut back. If you are in a dispute with a neighbour about a tree, you might want to seek legal advice, and here’s a few things you’ll need to take into account.
Trees on your land
If you have trees on your land, it’s your responsibility to ensure they don’t cause damage or injuries. This can be from any part of the tree, from the roots below ground to the branches above ground, and is why regular tree maintenance is so essential. It’s easy to see why neighbours can get so upset by trees that are poorly maintained, as they can be both unsightly and potentially damaging. Therefore, if you have a tree with roots that could potentially cause damage, or one that’s hanging over a neighbour’s fence, then the sensible thing to do would be to bring in tree experts so they can work out the best option. This could be cutting the tree back, or removing it completely.
Australian law states that landowners have the right to enjoy their property. Encroaching trees can cause a number of problems, including:
- Blocking sunlight from the garden or house
- Dropping leaves and debris on neighbour’s gardens
- Blocking TV signals
- Roots growing under neighbouring properties
- Branches falling off in bad weather and causing damage or injury
Under Australian law, if your neighbours tree has the potential to cause damage, poses a hazard to occupants of your home, or interferes with you or your property, you have the right to request that they take action.
Can I cut a neighbour’s tree?
While most neighbours will sort out any tree issues amicably, unfortunately it can sometimes lead to a dispute. In the meantime, you may be stuck with branches overhanging in your garden, which can be annoying. In most states, the law states you are allowed to prune the part of the tree that crosses your boundary line, and this is known as tree abatement. However, it’s important to check local laws, and also make sure there’s no tree preservation order in place.
Tree abatement laws state that the amount of tree you remove shouldn’t be excessive. You should avoid removing more than 10% of the total tree size. Under the law, the tree cuttings and any fruit still belong to the tree owner, so they should be offered back to them. To keep relationships with your neighbour amicable, it’s worth letting them know in advance that you plan to prune the branches, and you may want to bring in tree professionals who can ensure the tree isn’t damaged.
Sometimes it’s difficult to prune a tree without accessing your neighbour’s land. In these cases, you should provide written notice to your neighbour, giving them plenty of notice. Most neighbours will be fine with allowing access, especially if professionals are doing the job, but on occasion they may refuse, which means you may have to take further action.
Taking further action
If you can’t resolve the issue with your neighbour, then you may need to consider further action. You can get court orders in respect of any tree that adjoins your property, with the majority or full tree trunk sitting on the neighbour’s land.
If damaged has been caused, then your first step could be to write to your neighbour. This should include:
- Details of the damaged caused by branches or roots
- Repair quotes – ideally more than one
- A request for your neighbour to pay for the damage
- A request for the tree to be pruned or removed, as appropriate
Your neighbour will then have 21 days to respond to the letter, and will hopefully come back to you with a solution to sort out the problem.
What if my neighbour won’t sort out the problem?
If your neighbour doesn’t reply to your letter, or refuses to sort out the problem, then the next step could be to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau. In Western Australia, CAB offer mediation services for neighbour disputes, and you can visit them for advice. You simply provide your neighbour’s name and address, and they’ll invite both parties in for a mediation session, where you both have a chance to put your point of view across. In many cases, this is easier than going to court, and could lead to a peaceful resolution.
If mediation is refused, or you can’t reach an agreement, then going to court might be your only option. In the Perth area, disputes about trees are usually handled by the Magistrates Court of Western Australia. Most people get legal advice before they go down this avenue, as it means someone knowledgeable can look over the case, ensuring everything is put together before the case is heard. However, you can file the paperwork by yourself if you prefer.
What if my property is rented?
Tenants who are concerned about a neighbour’s tree, or have received complaints about a tree in their garden, should contact their landlord or property management company. It’s important not to prune any tree or make changes to the garden with your landlord’s permission, as this can be in breach of your tenancy agreement.
Trees can cause long disputes between neighbours, but luckily most problems are easy to resolve. Bring in professionals who can carry out lopping, removal, or cutting back of roots. This ensures that the tree can still thrive, and looks good. Most disputes about trees can be sorted out through simple communication and compromise, but if this doesn’t work, then you may need to seek legal advice or take further action.