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Tree Disputes – the ultimate guide to the law

It pays dividends to know the law, whether a tree dispute is resolved co-operatively between neighbours of by the Court.

The law is the common law of nuisance, which in New South Wales is set out in the Trees Act, or to give it its full title, the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006. In Queensland, it is the Neighbourhood Disputes (Dividing Fences and Trees) Act 2011. In Tasmania, it is the Neighbourhood Disputes about Plants Act 2017. In other States, there is no specific Act of Parliament, and so the common law of nuisance applies.

This guide is to the law in New South Wales. The case studies are with one exception, decisions of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales.

The exception is a recent NSW Supreme Court decision which states that it has been “settled law” since 1894 that a neighbour has the right to prune overhanging tree branches, at their cost.

The Trees Act in NSW gives neighbours these rights against the tree owner (the tree keeper):

  • the right to order a tree owner to trim a branch or remove a tree if the branch or tree trunk has damaged or is likely to cause damage to property or injury to any person;
  • the right to order a tree owner to remove a tree, the roots of which have damaged property and either re-build the damaged wall or fence or pay compensation;
  • the right to order a hedge owner trim or remove a hedge if it is severely blocking sunlight or a view.

The tree owner pays the cost because they own the tree or the hedge and are responsible to maintain the tree or the hedge so as to not damage their neighbour’s property (fences, buildings and paths), or injure them, or block their sunlight or views.

This guide has five parts:

  1. Are you worried about branches from a neighbour's tree overhanging your yard and spoiling your enjoyment of your swimming pool or shading your garden?
    Find out what you can do in Tree disputes #1 The right to prune overhanging branches

  2. Are you worried that a tree branch might fall or that a tree trunk is growing too close and is damaging your property?
    Find out what you can do in Tree disputes #2 Tree branches and trunks causing damage

  3. Are you worried that tree roots from a neighbour's tree are damaging your property or sewer lines?
    Find out what you can do in Tree disputes #3 Tree roots causing damage

  4. Are you worried that a tree or tree branch might fall and cause injury?
    Find out what you can do in Tree disputes #4 Trees causing injury

  5. Are you suffering a severe obstruction of your sunlight or a view from a bamboo, lilly pilli or other hedge?
    Find out what you can do Tree disputes #5 High hedges blocking sunlight or a view

Cordato Partners Lawyers advises on tree disputes If you need advice, do not hesitate to contact us by email or phone for a short consultation free of charge.

We have advised on many situations which were resolved co-operatively, and in some that needed an application to the Land and Environment Court to obtain orders for pruning or removal.

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