Neighbour Disputes (Vic)
Most people have heard the proverb “good fences make good neighbours”. Ironically, neighbours often have disputes over shared fences. Neighbours also frequently have disputes over boundary lines, trees, noise, and pets. Neighbours should attempt to resolve any issue between themselves. When the parties cannot reach an agreement, an aggrieved neighbour can complain to a local authority (such as the council or police) or take legal action. This article explains the legal implications of neighbour disputes in Victoria.
Neighbour disputes about Fences
Residential neighbours are responsible for repairing and building adequate fencing between their homes. The type of fencing depends on various factors, such as local council policies, planning and building laws, privacy issues and common styles in the neighbourhood. A tenant is generally not responsible for fencing as this is the landlord’s responsibility.
Typically, each neighbour pays half of the repair or build costs of a fence. There are exceptions to this rule. The neighbours must agree on the fencing and optimally draw up a formal agreement. Otherwise, if the property owner builds a fence without their neighbour’s agreement, they are liable for the total costs of the fence. If the neighbour will not agree on a fence, the property owner should give their neighbour a “fencing notice” before commencing work. The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria has a standard fencing notice form, or the property owner can prepare a letter with the required details. The Notice should specify the proposed type of fence or planned repairs, the name of the person who will perform the work, the estimated costs with a quote and the contribution requested from the neighbour. The neighbour has 30 days to challenge the Notice in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. The court can make orders on issues such as whether the fence is necessary, the fence’s type and location and the division of costs.
Neighbour disputes about animals
In Victoria, local councils regulate prohibited and dangerous animals. Councils can stipulate how many animals a person can keep, their location and movements, curfews and animal waste disposal.
Pet and livestock owners must ensure that their animals do not cause inconvenience or unreasonable annoyance to their neighbours. For instance, barking is a nuisance if it is persistent and loud and occurs at inconvenient times. An animal should also not wander onto a neighbouring property without permission. In urban areas, a pet that repeatedly trespasses onto a neighbouring property can be seized by the neighbour or authorised council officer. In rural Victoria, owners are responsible for livestock that wander onto neighbouring properties and cause damage to other people and property.
When a pet is causing problems, the homeowner should talk with their neighbour before taking any other action. If the parties cannot resolve their issue, the neighbour can call their local council for assistance.
Noise is an inevitable consequence of urban and suburban living, but it is often a cause of neighbour disputes. Depending on zoning, making excessive noise at certain hours may be illegal. For instance, it is prohibited for someone to use an electric power tool, such as a chainsaw, between 8 pm and 7 am on workdays and 8 pm and 9 am on the weekend and public holidays.
In some areas (such as commercial zones), noise from equipment or machinery is unavoidable. In residential areas, the law provides that residents should not interfere with their neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their property by making unreasonable noise. A neighbour can make a residential nuisance noise complaint to their local council.
The most common cause for this type of complaint is loud parties, music, or home renovations. When a problem is urgent, the neighbour can call the council or police for immediate assistance. Local council officers and police officers can direct people to stop making unreasonable noise. A breach of a council or police noise direction can result in an on-the-spot fine.
A public nuisance is an action that is offensive, endangers another person’s health, or seriously disrupts another person’s comfort. Private nuisance affects an individual or small group directly. Types of nuisance include smoke from burning rubbish, bad odours, unhygienic animal enclosures, damaging water run-offs or drainage from a neighbour’s property. A neighbour affected by nuisance can make a formal complaint to their local council or take action to recover damages in court.
Neighbour disputes about trees
Most neighbour tree disputes relate to overhanging branches or encroaching roots. These problems can cause property damage and pose a risk of injury to the neighbours. A neighbour’s rights on this issue depend on local planning schemes and laws. For instance, there are rules for how far a tree can overhang a footpath, and some councils restrict the removal of trees over a certain height. Local councils do not handle disputes for trees that overhang private property. These disputes must be resolved privately through mediation or litigation.
A property owner cannot enter their neighbour’s property to prune trees without permission. They should only cut back branches or roots on or over their own property and cannot cause unnecessary damage to the tree. If a neighbour is concerned that the adjacent property presents a bushfire risk, they can contact a Country Fire Authority or Municipal Fire Prevention Officer. These officials can issue fire prevention notices that require clearance of overgrown vegetation.
You should seek legal advice if you cannot resolve a neighbour dispute privately. Armstrong Legal can advise you whether you should pursue court action. Please contact the team on 1300 038 223 for specialist legal assistance.