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Neighbourhood Disputes (NSW)

Common disputes between neighbours are about noise, fences and trees. The fastest and cheapest way to resolve a dispute is for the neighbours to discuss the issue and come to an agreement. If this does not work, there are options including mediation, making a complaint to a local authority, or court action.

Noise disputes

Local councils can deal with some residential noise problems such as those involving noise from lawn mowers, swimming pool pumps, air conditioners, power tools and generators, which can be used only during specified hours and at specified volumes.

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 specifies when noise from domestic activities should not be heard by neighbours.

  • Power tools and equipment: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm Sundays and public holidays;
  • Musical instruments and amplified sound equipment: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after midnight on any Friday, Saturday or the day immediately before a public holiday;
  • Air conditioners and heat pump water heaters: not before 7am and after 10pm; not before 8am and after 10pm on weekends and public holidays;
  • Motor vehicles: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm on weekends and public holidays;
  • Refrigeration units fitted to motor vehicles: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm on weekends and public holidays.

The penalty for a breach is a $200 fine for individuals, or $400 for corporations. The maximum penalty a court can impose is $5500 for individuals  and $11,000 for corporations.

Police can deal with complaints about excessive noise, such as when the noise involves:

  • musical instruments;
  • stereos and amplifiers;
  • private gatherings, such as parties;
  • music and other noise emitted from vehicles on private property, on the road or in public places;
  • residential alarms.


Noise disputes in residential areas often relate to barking dogs. If mediation with a dog owner is unsuccessful, the local council can be asked to investigate. After examining evidence, if a council officer investigates and decides the complaint is justified, they can issue a Nuisance Order to the dog owner, under the Companion Animals Act 1988. The order must state the nature of the nuisance and remains in force for six months.

If the owner does not comply with the order, they can be fined up to $880 for the first offence and up to $1650 for each subsequent offence.

Fence disputes

Dividing fences can be a source of disputes between neighbours. A dispute can arise when the owners of adjoining properties disagree about the fence construction, maintenance or position. Fence disputes are governed by the Dividing Fences Act 1991.

An adjoining owner is liable to contribute equally to the cost of a building or replacing a standard dividing fence. However, if an adjoining owner or their guest damages or destroys the fence through negligence or a deliberate act, that owner is liable for the whole cost. If a fence has been damaged or destroyed and needs to be restored urgently, and it is impracticable to serve a repair notice, an adjoining owner can carry out the urgent work needed and the other adjoining owner is liable for half the cost.

An adjoining owner should issue a notice to the other adjoining owner that fencing work needs to be done and that they should contribute to the cost. The notice must state the boundary line where the work will be done, the type of work and the cost.

If the adjoining owners reach agreement on the fencing work, the terms should be put in writing. The agreement should cover all details, including fence height, material, colour, cost and position; as well as any arrangements for the removal of any existing fence and any extra work that might need to be done and the cost.

If agreement cannot be reached, adjoining owners can attend a Community Justice Centre for free mediation services to help solve the dispute. If agreement is still not reached, an aggrieved neighbour can apply to the local court or the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for an order.

Tree disputes

The Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006 governs neighbourhood disputes involving trees. If a neighbour’s tree is overhanging or interfering with a property, the affected neighbour has a right to cut back the offending branches and roots.

The Land and Environment Court can hear and determine a fence dispute that involves a tree. A fence dispute can be transferred to this court by application or of the court’s own motion, if a tree has damaged or is damaging a dividing fence; or if a tree is part of a dividing fence and has damaged, is damaging, or is likely to damage property or injure a person.

If you require advice or representation in any matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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