Having issues with trees is a common cause of disputes between neighbours. You may have had damage from falling branches, fruit constantly dropping into your pool or leaves blocking gutters for example. If you’ve found yourself in this position it can be extremely frustrating, especially if your neighbour is refusing to take any action or even talk about it at all.
While it may be tempting to take matters into your own hands, before pruning overhanging trees, take a moment to familiarise yourself with what you legally can and can’t do, so you’re always on the right side of the law.
What Are The First Steps?
The best first step is always to speak directly with your neighbour about the problem. More often than not, you’ll be able to come to a quick, amicable agreement. Doing so will certainly be a lot less stressful, cheaper and faster than having to take legal action. Discuss the issue you’re having, what needs to be done, who is going to carry out the work, who is going to pay for it and what will happen with the waste so everyone is clear on what’s going to happen from start to finish. You may even like to get what you’ve agreed to in writing so there’s no confusion and you’ve got a record of it if there are any disagreements down the track.
Check with your local council if there are any vegetation protection orders in place on the tree or trees in question before cutting anything. Certain trees can be protected and you will be heavily fined if you cut even a branch without permission.
What You Can Legally Do
If your neighbour’s tree is overhanging onto your land, here in Queensland you are within your rights to exercise what is known as the common law right of abatement, which is basically your right to remove any overhanging roots and branches to your boundary line.
Depending on what you’ve agreed with your neighbour, you can then return the roots, branches or any fruit back to your neighbour, or dispose of them yourself. You are not legally obligated to return anything to your neighbour.
You can also choose to give your neighbour written notice to remove any offending branches using a Form 3 – Notice for removal of particular overhanging branches. Note that this only applies where branches are overhanging by more than 50 centimetres and are less than 2.5 metres above the ground. Trees cannot be covered by a vegetation protection order. This order will state a specific time by which the work needs to be done by. If your neighbour does not comply with the notice you can remove them yourself or have an Arborist do so at your neighbour’s expense.
If You’re Still Getting Nowhere
If your neighbour is being entirely uncooperative, your last resort is to go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal or QCAT, who can make a legally enforceable decision.
Your neighbour’s tree will be defined as negatively impacting you or your property if in the next 12 months, the tree is likely to seriously injure someone on your land, seriously damage your property or land in any way or unreasonably impair your enjoyment and use of, your land or property.
For more information, visit your local government or council site around tree disputes as rules vary state to state.
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