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Having a neighbour with a problem tree can be not only incredibly annoying but also costly. Issues with trees are a common cause of disputes.
Trees can drop leaves, fruit and branches into yards and pools, roots can become overgrown and start destroying pathways and gardens, or a tree can obscure views and block sunlight to solar panels or TV reception. Maybe your neighbour has got an enormous, sick looking tree right next to your bedroom that you don’t want to crash through your roof at 2 am.

So, what can you do if you find yourself in one of these situations?


Know your rights

It’s always a good idea to know exactly what you can and can’t do with your neighbour’s trees. Depending on your particular situation, the Neighbourhood Disputes (Dividing Fences and Trees) Act 2011 covers most common disputes.

Firstly, you need to confirm who the owner of the tree is. This may not be as straightforward as you’d think as it may not be an individual, it may be an organisation or body corporate. The ‘tree-keeper’, in most cases, is the registered owner of the land. If you’re not sure who owns the land, refer to the Land Title Act 1994.

Once you’re sure who owns the tree, approach your neighbour and talk to them about your concerns. They may agree to deal with the problem themselves or get a professional Arborist out to do the job, or you may be happy to trim the tree back yourself if it’s a small job. You’ll generally find most people want to reach a solution and you can deal with the problem amicably without fuss and costly legal fees.


What can I do myself?

If you have a tree overhanging onto your land from a privately-owned property, you can exercise the common law of abatement, where you remove the overhanging branches or encroaching tree roots to the boundary line.

You need to make sure that there are no tree or vegetation protection orders in place before doing so. You can then decide whether you would like to return the branches or roots to the owner or dispose of them yourself – you are allowed to do either.

If the property is council owned, always check before carrying out any work. Never attempt to carry out any tree work that is beyond your capabilities, always call in a qualified professional Arborist who has the necessary skills and insurances to do work of this nature.


If you can’t reach an agreement

If you’ve spoken with your neighbour and haven’t been able to reach an agreement, you can give them a notice to remove the overhanging branches using a “Notice For Removal Of Particular Overhanging Branches” or Form 3.

This can be applied only to trees that are not covered by a vegetation protection order, and branches must be less than 2.5 metres above the ground and overhang the boundary line more than 50cm.

If your neighbour does not have the branches removed within the time specified in the notice, you can remove them yourself or choose to have a professional Arborist do the work at your neighbour’s expense, as they are liable to pay up to $300 a year for branch removal.

If the branches are overhanging more than 50cm or are higher than 2.5 metres from the ground, you would need to apply to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) for an order.


The last resort

If you’ve tried to resolve the issue and you’re not getting anywhere – the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) can assist with tree disputes and make a legally enforceable decision on the issue.

The Tribunal will look at whether your neighbour’s tree is negatively impacting you. They will assess whether in the next 12 months the tree is likely to seriously injure a person on your land; seriously damage the land itself or the property on it; as well as whether the tree is likely to intrude on your use and enjoyment of your land to an unreasonable degree. An example of this would be if a tree drops large branches into your pool and you’re afraid of using it and getting hurt.

A tree may also be seen as adversely affecting your use and enjoyment of your land in some cases if it obstructs existing views where tree branches are more than 2.5 metres off the ground. Trees that consistently drop substantial amounts of litter into a yard are also considered to have a negative impact on enjoyment.

QCAT can hand down different orders depending on the situation. They may decide compensation is required, that a professional Arborist must carry out an inspection or that annual tree maintenance is necessary for example. QCAT may also require Arborist reports to accompany applications to assist in their decision-making process.

Failing to comply with an order from QCAT without a reasonable excuse can result in your neighbour being fined up to $100,000.
Maintaining a civil relationship with your neighbours should always be the goal. Don’t let problem trees become a nightmare – talk to your neighbour, get in a professional Arborist to take care of it if necessary and move on.

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