I’m having a dispute with my neighbour over a tree, what can I do?

10 December, 2019 | Nathan Tetzlaff

New Zealanders love trees!  On average in Auckland about 18% of land is covered by trees.  Depending on the suburb that number ranges between 8% and 74%.  Trees enrich the landscape and provide food for people or animals, shade, and a welcome break from boring human development.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and happy photosynthesis; trees can have a dark side too. Disputes over trees cause peoples’ emotions to turn sour, and the trees themselves can disrupt foundations or driveways, block drain pipes, impair views, and cast long shadows.

As a landowner you have certain specific rights in relation to your land, in particular the right to the ordinary use and enjoyment of the land.  This includes planting or removing trees if you wish.  However, your neighbour also has these rights.

If your neighbour allows their trees to cause problems for you, you may have the legal right to demand that they fix this.

Where trees cross over the property boundary you are entitled to trim branches or roots.  Take care not to trespass while trimming!  Any fruit on these off-cuts must be returned as this still technically belongs to the neighbour.  You also can’t poison a neighbour’s tree, not even just the parts that cross the boundary.

The most common problems caused by trees are:

·         Blocking views;

·         Blocking light or airflow;

·         Clogging gutters (with leaves) or drains (with leaves or roots);

·         Undermining or damaging structures like foundations, driveways, or pools.

There can be problems that you might not usually consider, such as trees on a rural property blocking cellular WIFI internet signals.

When trees cause damage, it won’t normally matter whether your neighbour knew that this could happen.  A person is responsible for the things that they keep on their land and the damage these things cause if they escape, including trees.

If your neighbour’s trees are causing problems for you, the first step is usually to talk to them, and give them the opportunity to remedy the problem.  An amicable agreement will almost certainly be preferable to a lengthy, costly and bitter legal battle.

However, if discussions with your neighbour fail to resolve the problem then several courses of action are available.

If trees have caused actual damage under $30,000 and there is a dispute, you can apply to the Disputes Tribunal for compensation.

For damages over $30,000, or where you want orders that the trees be removed or trimmed, a claim can be brought to the District Court.  All the problems referred to above are potentially justification for the Court to order removal or trimming.

The Court will only make an order where the order is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances and will balance the rights and interests of the two parties.  It will also consider a range of other factors including any historical, cultural, or scientific significance of the tree, and the environmental and aesthetic effects of the tree.

If the situation gets so bad that you need to go to Court and get orders, you may be able to claim a portion of your legal costs from the neighbour.

Occasionally a neighbour wants to remove a tree that you think has value and should remain.  There is not usually anything you can do about this.  In some cases, trees may be protected under Local Council by-laws.  The Auckland Council’s website states that:

“Some trees are protected under the district plans, because they are considered to be significant, historic, or important for enriching the area or preventing erosion.

They can be referred to as:

·         listed

·         notable

·         scheduled.

Your tree may also be protected:

·         as part of a condition on a resource consent

·         by a covenant or consent notice on the title

·         because it is subject to a general tree protection rule within a ‘rural environment’.”

Neighbourhood disputes of all kinds, but especially those involving trees, can cause tensions to flair.  Contact our specialist dispute resolution team to assist you to achieve the results that you want, with a minimum of fuss. Phone 09 836 0939 or by email partners@smithpartners.co.nz

Are you in dispute with your neighbour over a tree or boundary?

Reduce your stress and get your dispute sorted – contact our dispute resolution team today to set up an appointment.

email Nathan
+64 9 8376844

About the author

Nathan is a senior dispute resolution lawyer, with specialist experience in civil disputes, including commercial litigation and employment law. He assists clients with trust disputes, residential and commercial property disputes, construction disputes, business disputes including shareholder and franchise disputes, and
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