If you or your neighbour has an issue with the other over tree(s), shrubs or foliage, it’s easiest to try and reach agreement. Here are some things you should know:

  • Tree disputes are covered by ‘common law’, which is law the courts have developed over time.
  • A property owner has the right to trim back any leaves or branches that enter their property at their own cost. This is known as the ‘right of abatement’.
  • You’re liable for any damages you cause to your neighbour’s tree while performing any maintenance.
  • If you want your neighbour to pay for any tree maintenance, you need to show it’s damaging your property or constitutes a private nuisanceA private nuisance is when your use and enjoyment of your land is being affected by another person’s act or omission. This is decided in the Magistrates’ Court.
  • Before performing any tree maintenance, check with your local council (External link) to ensure you are complying with all relevant tree regulations. Make sure the tree isn’t protected and doesn’t require a permit to cut it back.
  • The council won’t help resolve a dispute or cut back your tree for you, unless it’s on council land.
  • If you believe that you require access to your neighbour’s land to perform tree maintenance, you need their consent.

How do I resolve a tree dispute?

Things will always be easier and better if both parties can negotiate an outcome. Consider what you’re willing to compromise on and what you want done. Here’s some helpful hints to take into any negotiation:

  1. Get an arborist or a tree lopper’s report outlining the tree’s condition, any safety issues and the maintenance it needs. If the report deems your neighbour’s tree is unsafe, get it in writing so you can show them.
  2. Get a quote for the tree maintenance you want. Do you want it removed or cut back? If you’re not sure, get a quote for both so you’re negotiating with practical, relevant figures.
  3. Find out your neighbour’s concerns over an informal chat. Ask yourself:      
  • “Have I really listened to them and tried to come up with a solution?”
  • “What am I willing to negotiate over?”
  • “Is there a different way to resolve this?” 

And don’t forget that unless you go to court, your neighbour isn’t obliged to cut back their own tree so you may have to accept a lower offer than you’d hoped for.

  1. For independent legal advice talk to the Federation of Community Legal Centres (External link) or the Law Institute of Victoria (External link)

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