Disputes with your neighbour can be difficult at the best of times and affect your relationship moving forward. So, what can you do (legally) if your neighbour has a tree on the boundary blocking your sun or interfering with your land?
Neighbours at war over trees!
An elderly Nelson resident took matters into her own hands after complaining that her neighbours’ trees made her home too dark, cold and depressing. After trying to talk to her neighbours and not getting her desired outcome, the Nelson local took a pair of shears to the trees and cut them back herself. The police were called to remove the woman. But she has no regrets and said it was “worth it” as she now gets a bit more sun.
What does the law say?
As a landowner you are entitled to the ordinary use and enjoyment of your land. However, your neighbours also enjoy this right. If your neighbours’ tree has roots or branches that cross the boundary you are legally entitled to cut them back yourself. The fruit that hang over onto your property are still legally the property of the tree owner, so if you decide to cut the neighbours’ fruit tree back, you are meant to throw the fruit back! Whether this ever happens in reality is unclear…. unlike the fruit, in the absence of an agreement with your neighbour, the costs associated with cutting trees back belong to you.
But what do you do about a pesky tree that blocks your sun, but doesn’t cross the boundary, like in our Nelson example above? You have the right to ordinary use and enjoyment of your land. If the tree is making your property too dark and miserable, this may amount to an unreasonable interference with your enjoyment of your land. However, the interference would need to be quite extreme to amount to unreasonable! In that situation, you could apply to the District Court for a special order under section 333 of the Property Law Act for the trees to be removed or trimmed. If your order is granted, your neighbour will have 20 working days to comply.
What should you do in reality?
You’re meant to love thy neighbour, right? So, talk to them first and try to preserve the relationship! If this doesn’t work, there are mediation and arbitration processes to help resolve these types of disputes. The Disputes Tribunal, which is a cheaper option than the District Court, can also hear claims up to $30,000 for damage to property.
If you need any legal advice in regards to your property please contact us, we would be happy to help.