It is important to plan ahead to make your conversation easier. Before approaching your neighbour, be clear about what the problem is and work out what you want or what you would like them to do.

Find out if your neighbour is the right person to talk to

Depending on the issue, you may need to clarify whether your neighbour is the owner of the property or a tenant. For example, if the issue relates to a fence, then this is the owner’s responsibility. If the issue is to do with noise, then you can discuss it with the tenant who is making the noise.   

To find out who the owner is, either ask the tenant or contact the local council.   

Find your local council using the Know Your Council (External link) website. 

Ice-breaker techniques

To build a working relationship with your neighbour, approach them in a friendly way. If you don’t feel comfortable knocking on their door, wait until you see your neighbour outside and then introduce yourself, or leave an introductory note in their letterbox and then follow up in person. Try to:

  • Pick a time to discuss things without rushing.
  • Look for common interests as a conversation-starter.
  • Talk about general topics before getting into the specifics of the problem.
  • Find points of common concern, for example, a tree that is likely to drop branches could injure their children as well as yours.

Effective Communication

Approach your neighbour in an open way without making assumptions about how they will respond. Treat them with respect, no matter what their personality is.

Remain calm

Try not to be too emotional when talking to your neighbour.

Be clear and focus on the issue

Focus on the issue, rather than interpreting their behaviour or make personal remarks. Don’t bring in irrelevant details. Be clear about:

  • What the issue is.
  • Why it’s important. For example, if a branch breaks off a tree it might injure children who play in your backyard or if the fence is broken your dog might escape.
  • How it might affect your neighbour as well. For example, if a branch off the neighbour’s tree injures someone, that will create a problem for the neighbour. 

Listen

Give the other person the opportunity to express their point of view and listen to what they have to say. Don’t make assumptions about their motives. Try to see things from their point of view. They may have a good reason for not agreeing to do what you want. 

Look for solutions

Point out the benefits in addressing the problem. Work with the other person to find a mutually acceptable solution. Try to come up with suggestions that will accommodate everyone's needs.

If your neighbour avoids the conversation or ignores you

It can be frustrating if you’ve tried to approach your neighbour and they won’t engage with you.  

Don’t assume that it means they don’t want the problem solved. Your neighbour might have issues you’re not aware of.  

Try to think about it from their perspective:

  • Is the timing not right for them?
  • Do they not feel confident?
  • Do they need more information or advice?
  • Do they need someone to help them to have that conversation with you? 

Think about how you could make them feel comfortable talking to you.

If you and your neighbour don’t get along 

If you have a history of difficulty with your neighbour, approaching them to talk about a new issue can be a challenge.  

Think about:

  • Acknowledging or apologising for past issues. Try clearing the air with a note in their letterbox or a conversation if you feel comfortable.
  • Being as clear as you can about the issue and why it’s important to you. This will help them understand your point of view. 
  • Staying calm and trying not to react to your neighbour, even if you think they’re being unreasonable.
  • Using a neutral third party such as a mediation service can help to have a conversation in a controlled environment. 

If there is a history of violence or aggression with your neighbour, it’s best not to approach them in person.

Finding the owner’s contact details

If you don’t know who owns the neighboring property, you can:

  • call your local council and say you want to cut back a tree, but you don’t know who owns the land it’s growing on
  • run a title search on the LANDATA website (External link) (Fees apply)
  • if it’s a rental property, ask the current tenant for the property manager’s details. 

If you still can’t find the owner you should get legal advice. If you want the owner to pay for some of the costs, you’ll need a Magistrates’ Court order before any work begins.