Neighbours      

Disputes can arise between neighbours for many reasons. For example neighbours may have issues about noise, needing a new fence, overhanging trees, dogs and other pets, rubbish, access to properties, renovations and building work, use of common property, privacy issues and the behaviour of children.

Having a bad relationship or dispute with a neighbour can make life very stressful. No one wants to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their own home.

Dealing with these issues early can help you avoid a dispute. Try these steps to avoid and where necessary resolve disagreements with neighbours:

Taking the matter to court should always be the last resort.

Knowing your legal rights and obligations may also help you resolve your neighbour dispute. The NSW State Library has published an easy to understand guide to Neighbours and the law. The guide covers different neighbourhood issues and disputes including: dividing fences, retaining walls, overhanging branches, animals and noise.

Image of neighbours arguing over rubbish.  

Talk to your neighbour first

Talking to your neighbour as soon as possible may avoid or resolve any problems. It will also help maintain a positive relationship, making it easier to deal with other issues in the future. Remember that communicating with your neighbour means:

  • Talking to them.

  • Listening so you can understand their point of view and respond to any concerns they raise.

Ask a third party for help

If you have talked to your neighbour and this has not resolved the issues, you can ask someone else to help. It is best to ask someone who is not emotionally involved in the dispute. You could try:

  • A family member.

  • A friend.

  • Another neighbour who knows you both.

Try mediation at CJC

CJC mediation helps neighbours resolve disputes and improve their relationships. More than 80% of the disputes we mediate result in agreement and there are no waiting lists. Call CJC on 1800 990 777 to discuss your neighbour dispute with us.

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Should you go to court?

For most disputes between neighbours, court should be a last resort. If you do go to court, there is a good chance you will be referred to mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution as a first step anyway.

Reasons it is better to stay out of court and resolve your dispute by agreement include:

  • Agreements are much cheaper, quicker and easier than court.
  • You and your neighbour can find a solution that suits you.
  • Taking your neighbour to court will probably damage your relationship even more - agreement can help improve it.

It is worth getting some legal information or advice before you decide to go to court. For free legal information, you can call LawAccess on 1300 888 529.

The law and neighbour disputes

Knowing your rights and obligations under the law can help you resolve disputes with your neighbour. You can get free legal information and referral from LawAccess on 1300 888 529. You can also contact your local council to check if there are any local laws or regulations that apply to your area and property.

Noise

As for all neighbour disputes, it is best to try to resolve issues about noise by agreement, either by discussing the matter with your neighbour or trying mediation through CJC. You may consider coming to an agreement that restricts certain kinds of noise or specifies certain times of day that noise may or may not be made.

If you cannot reach agreement, there are other steps you may take by approaching the police or courts. However, you may wish to consider carefully what impact contacting authorities about noise will have on your future relationship with your neighbour and the potential benefits of coming to an agreement if at all possible.

Where the noise is extreme or happens very late at night, for example during a party, you may complain to the police who can give a noise abatement direction to the noise makers. There are also be council rules and other laws that restrict noise in some circumstances, and you may be able to approach the local council or the Local Court to seek a noise abatement order.

It is worth getting some legal information or advice before taking legal action. For free legal information, you can call LawAccess on 1300 888 529.

Fences

If you need to build or repair a dividing fence, it is best to communicate and agree with your neighbour about the type and cost of the fence and how much each of you will pay towards it. It is helpful to get a number of quotes to help you agree on a reasonable cost. You should also check with your local council about whether there are any restrictions or regulations on the types of fence allowed in your area.

If you can't come to an agreement yourself, you can contact CJC to arrange a CJC mediation. CJC mediations regularly help resolve fencing disputes. We have a settlement rate of around 80%.

The main law that applies to disputes about fences is the Dividing Fences Act 1991 (NSW). The general principle is that adjoining owners must share the cost of a 'sufficient dividing fence'.

Whether a fence is considered to be 'sufficient' will depend on factors such as the standard of the existing fence (if there is one), the uses or intended uses of the adjoining lands, privacy or other concerns of the owners, what kind of fence is usual in the local area and any relevant local government or environmental planning rules.

If one owner wants a fence that is more than 'sufficient' - that is, because it is higher or of a different design or standard, and the other neighbour does not agree to pay towards the additional costs, the owner who wants the extra features is responsible for the additional cost. If you and your neighbour cannot reach an agreement about the type and cost of fencing, you can serve the neighbour with a fencing notice. There is no standard form of the notice, but it must include information about the position, type and estimated cost of the fencing as well as the proposed contribution of each neighbour.

It is worth making further attempts to agree after a fencing notice has been served either through talking to your neighbour or using mediation with CJC. If there is still no agreement a month after you served the notice, you can ask the Local Court or Local Land Board to make an order about the fencing work required. It is worth getting some legal information or advice before you decide to go to make an application for an order. For free legal information, you can call LawAccess on 1300 888 529.

Trees

Most disputes between neighbours about trees involve overhanging branches or roots that affect or pose a potential risk to a neighbour's property. Other issues may involve damage to a neighbour's tree, falling leaves or trees on one property affecting the views or amount sunlight reaching another property.

As always, the best way to resolve these disputes is to come to an agreement either directly or through a process such as mediation. CJC regularly mediates tree disputes and has a high rate of success. Agreements are reached in around 80% of disputes CJC mediates.

Before cutting or pruning a tree, you should check with your local council about whether there is a tree preservation order in the local area. If there is a tree preservation order, you will need to apply to the local council before you do anything to the tree, otherwise you could be fined.

If your neighbour's tree has branches or roots that overhang or interfere with your property, it is advisable to communicate and agree with them as well as checking with the council before you take any action. In general, you own the air above and the soil below your property - this means you have some rights to cut back branches or roots that overhang and if the tree causes damage to your property you may be able seek damages from the neighbour. However, if you damage or kill the tree in the process you could be liable, and you are not entitled to enter your neighbour's property to cut or prune the tree without permission or an order from a court. Also note that any fruit, roots or branches you remove from the neighbour's tree belongs to the neighbour and you should ask if they would like these returned to them.

There are no simple rules about who is responsible for the cost of pruning or cutting down a tree that affects neighbours - again it is best to discuss and come to an agreement about this. If you cannot come to an agreement, you may be able to make an application under the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006 (NSW) or other laws. You should get legal advice before doing this.

It is worth getting some legal information or advice before you decide to go to court. For free legal information, you can call LawAccess on 1300 888 529.

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Mediation stories

Anna and Beryl
Anna and Beryl are neighbours who have a dispute about noise.

Frank and Lin
Frank and Lin are neighbours who have a dispute about a tree along the boundary of their houses.

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Noise

Fences

Trees