Neighbourhood Disputes (ACT)
It is common for people living in urban and suburban areas to find themselves involved in a dispute with a neighbour. Neighbourhood disputes may involve noise complaints, disagreements over trees or fences, or animals living on nearby properties. This article deals with neighbourhood disputes in the ACT.
Negotiate with your neighbour
If you have found yourself involved in a dispute with a neighbour, the first step to take is always to talk to the neighbour directly and try to resolve the situation between the two of you.
If you are unable to resolve the situation directly with the other party, there are various steps you can take to bring your concerns to their attention and ensure that the situation is resolved. This may involve talking to a lawyer, inviting your neighbour to mediation, or in some cases, making an application to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).
Noise complaints in the ACT are governed by the Environment Protection Act 1997. However, most noise complaints are short-term and can be resolved by talking directly to the person responsible. Situations that commonly lead to noise complaints are parties, renovations and construction work.
If a noise issue cannot be resolved by talking to the neighbour involved, a complaint can be made. Complaints about different types of noise are made to different bodies. Complaints about building and construction noise and residential noise such as air conditioning can be made to Access Canberra, while complaints about noise caused by animals are made to Domestic Animal Services.
If the noise is found to be of an unacceptable level, the person responsible may be issued with an Environment Protection Order. Such an order may require them to stop a specified activity, or to take specified action to remedy the situation.
Disputes about the erection or repair of a fence are common between neighbours. In the ACT, owners of private property are each responsible for half the cost of the construction or maintenance of fences. Urban fences are required to be at least 1.5 metres high and are generally constructed of hardwood palings. Other types of fences can be put up if both neighbours agree and the type of fence is permitted in the location.
If you are involved in a neighbourhood dispute about a fence and it cannot be resolved directly with the other party, you can take the dispute to ACAT, which can determine the details of the fence to be built or repaired and how the costs are to be divided.
Before doing this, you must give your neighbour a notice to discuss the fence. This document sets out the details of the dispute and invites the neighbour to discuss the matter with you within a stated timeframe (14 days or 30 days depending on the nature of the dispute). If the neighbour does not respond to the notice within the timeframe specified, you may apply to ACAT for a determination.
Neighbourhood disputes also sometimes arise in relation to trees that are overhanging a neighbour’s property. A person is permitted to trim overhanging branches of a neighbour’s tree in the ACT, but not to go onto a neighbour’s property in order to do so.
Some trees in the ACT are protected or regulated under the Tree Protection Act 2005, because they are of particular value, or because of their size. If a tree is protected or regulated, activities that are likely to damage the tree require approval.
Neighbourhood disputes involving pets are governed by the Domestic Animals Act 2000. That act sets out the responsibilities of pet owners to ensure their pets are appropriately controlled, cared for and cleaned up after.
Animal nuisance complaints often relate to barking dogs or to animals not being adequately restrained. Complaints about animal nuisance can be made to Domestic Animal Services. This can be done online or by post or email.
When deciding how to respond to a complaint, Domestic Animal Services will consider:
- How many people are affected;
- The damage, disturbance or danger caused;
- Any reasonable precautions the owner has taken to stop or minimise the nuisance;
- Any reasonable precautions the person affected has taken to minimise the effects of the nuisance.
When Animal Services receives a complaint, it notifies the owner of the animal involved and gives them two weeks to address the situation before taking regulatory action under the Domestic Animals Act. Action that can be taken under the Act including the seizure of an animal or requiring a dog owner to have the dog declared menacing or dangerous.
There are also criminal offences that a person can be charged with under the Domestic Animals Act, such as encouraging or provoking a dog to attack or failing to dispose of dog faeces.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.