Trees are a common cause of acrimony between neighbours. Overhanging branches or spreading roots can cause problems on a neighbouring property and may even present a risk of personal injury. Fallen leaves blocking gutters, roots cracking driveways or sewerage pipes, too much shading of garden beds, and damage to fences and rooves are some of the most common issues.
In Australia, branches that overhang a neighbour’s boundary are regarded as a nuisance. Whether they are causing damage or not, in the eyes of the law, overhanging branches are trespassing. A neighbour is therefore allowed to prune branches to the boundary line without the permission of the owner of the tree. Of course, out of courtesy, it is always advisable to notify the neighbour before pruning such branches.
While local Councils do not intervene in disputes about trees between neighbours, they do have their own sets of rules regarding Tree Preservation. These rules govern when consent is required for the removal and pruning of trees, so it is imperative that the local Council’s rules are checked before any pruning is done.
Beyond pruning overhanging branches, neighbours are not permitted to damage or remove a tree that is on a neighbouring property without the permission of the owner, or a court order.
In NSW, the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006 (Trees Act) allows for applications to the Land and Environment Court for orders when neighbours are unable to resolve the issue themselves.
The Court can make orders to prune or remove trees, and for payment of compensation for damage or injury caused by trees.
It is important to note that the court will not make an order unless the neighbours have already tried to reach an agreement. In addition, it must be shown that the tree either has or is likely to cause damage to the neighbour’s property, or it is likely to cause injury to a person.
It is important to remember that some level of tolerance is required when living in an urban environment. Both neighbours need to consider the dispute from the other’s perspective and attempt to resolve the issue together.