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How to manage some common neighbourly disputes

By Rikki Cook

Disputes with neighbours range from where the property boundary is, who should maintain the fence, to whether or not you can chop down that tree. There’s a fine line between who owns what and who has responsibility, as well as what classes as disturbance.

If you are experiencing difficulties with your property issue, read on to find out how you might be able to solve it.

Common causes of neighbourly disputes

Disputes occur for a variety of reasons but commonly relate to the effect of one person’s lifestyle, property choices or lack of upkeep has on their neighbours. Many types of dispute are easily solved through conversation, and lots of neighbours resolve their issues without legal support.

Common disputes include:

  • Boundary fences or walls – who owns, maintains and replaces them.
  • Tree and plants that protrude into a neighbour’s space.
  • Animals and pets kept by a neighbour .
  • Garden activities and associated complaints such as unpleasant smells or excessive noise.

Key points to remember for different types of dispute

  • A fence that is built on a common boundary line is equally owned by both neighbours and so the upkeep and maintenance falls to both. However, if a fence is erected slightly off the boundary line, it is owned by the neighbour whose land it is on, no matter who paid for or installed it.
  • Generally, if one person needs a fence of a certain height or purpose, such as keep their pet safely contained, they should pay for any costs on top of standard expenses.
  • Issues with trees or plants usually stem from the damage they can cause to a neighbour’s property – such as falling branches or leaves blocking drains, swimming pool systems or light.
  • If a tree or plant is protruding into your land, you can exercise the common law right of abatement, which means that you can remove anything on your side of the boundary. You may return any items (such as fruit) to your neighbour but you are not required to do so.
  • Any noise complaints that could be related to violence or an out-of-control party can be reported to the police. Other noise complaints, such as loud dogs, can be raised with the local council.

How to resolve neighbourhood disputes

The first thing you should do is try to come to an agreement naturally with your neighbour. Talk to them rationally and calmly about the potential options and see if you can find a mutually acceptable solution. Face-to-face communications are often more effective than written communications where opinions can get misconstrued.

Find a convenient time to talk about the problem, that suits both parties and allows everyone a chance to give their opinion and preferred solutions. It’s important to listen just as much as you talk.

However, should your talks fail, the next step is to use a dispute resolution centre for mediation. This is often a much cheaper and easier option than taking legal action by way of going to court. Queensland offers many dispute resolution centres throughout the state.

Should your dispute be regarding overhanging branches, another option is to serve a notice for removal, assuming that the tree is not specially protected. There are rules around the types of tree this notice applies to, how much they are overhanging and how high they are. This option puts a time frame on the removal, and requires your neighbour to confirm their plans.

If mediation is unsuccessful, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) are able to deal with disputes valued up to $25,000. Decisions made through QCAT are legally binding. If an overhanging tree cannot be dealt with by a notice for removal, the QCAT may be able to grant an order ranging from maintenance to removal.

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