Neighbourhood Disputes (Vic)
Neighbours sometimes get into disputes over fences, boundary lines, trees, noise, and pets. It’s always best to attempt to resolve these sorts of issues directly with the other party. When the parties cannot reach an agreement, a person can complain to a local authority (like the police or the council) or take legal action. This article outlines the legal implications of neighbourhood disputes in Victoria.
Neighbourhood disputes about fences
Residential neighbours are responsible for building and maintaining adequate fences between their homes. The type of fencing depends on factors like local council policies, planning and building laws, privacy and common styles in the neighbourhood. Tenants are generally not responsible for fencing as this is the responsibility of the owner.
Typically, when a fence needs to be built or repaired, each neighbour pays half of the cost. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Neighbours must agree on the fencing and ideally should draw up a formal agreement. Otherwise, if one person builds a fence without their neighbour’s agreement, they are liable for the total costs. If the neighbour will not agree on a fence, the property owner should provide their neighbour with a “fencing notice” before starting the work.
The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria has a standard fencing notice form that can be used, or the owner can prepare a letter setting out the details. The Notice should specify the proposed type of fence or nature of the repairs, who will carry out the work, the estimated costs with a quote and the contribution requested from the neighbour. If the neighbour wants to challenge the Notice in court, they have 30 days to do so. The Magistrates Court can make orders on issues like whether the fence is necessary, the fence’ type and location and how the costs should be divided between the parties.
Neighbourhood disputes about animals
In Victoria, local councils regulate the keeping of dangerous animals. Councils can stipulate how many animals a resident can keep and regulate their location and movements, curfews and methods of animal waste disposal.
Owners of pets and livestock must ensure that their animals do not cause their neighbours inconvenience or unreasonable annoyance. For instance, barking is a nuisance if it is persistent and loud and occurs at inconvenient times. Animals should also not be allowed to wander onto others’ property without permission. In urban areas, a pet that repeatedly trespasses can be seized by the neighbour or by an authorised council officer. In rural Victoria, property owners are responsible for livestock that wander onto neighbouring properties and cause damage.
When a pet is causing problems, a person should talk with their neighbour before taking any other action. If the parties cannot resolve the issue, the neighbour can call their local council for advice.
Noise is an inevitable part of urban and suburban living, but it often leads to neighbour disputes. Depending on zoning, it may be illegal to make excessive noise at certain hours. For instance, it is unlawful to use an electric power tool, like a chainsaw, between 8 pm and 7 am on workdays or between 8 pm and 9 am on weekends and public holidays.
In some areas (commercial zones), noise from equipment or machinery is unavoidable. In residential areas, residents are prohibited from interfering with their neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their property by causing unreasonable noise. A neighbour can make a residential nuisance noise complaint to the local council if this occurs.
The most common causes for these types of complaints are loud parties, loud music, and home renovations. When a problem is urgent, a person can call the council or police. Local council officers and police can direct people to stop making unreasonable noise. If a person breaches council or police noise directions, they may receive an on-the-spot fine.
A public nuisance is an action that is offensive, endangers the health of another person, or seriously disrupts another person’s comfort. Private nuisance affects a person or small group of people directly. Types of nuisance include smoke, bad smells, unhygienic animal enclosures and damaging water run-offs or drainage. A neighbour affected by nuisance can complain to their local council or take action seeking damages in court.
Neighbour disputes about trees
Most neighbourhood disputes about trees relate to overhanging branches or encroaching roots. These can cause property damage and pose a risk of injury to neighbours. A neighbour’s rights in this situation depend on local planning schemes and laws. For instance, there are rules about how far a tree can overhang a footpath, and some councils restrict the removal of trees that are above a certain height. Local councils do not handle disputes for trees that overhang private property. Such disputes must be resolved privately through mediation or litigation.
A property owner requires permission to enter their neighbour’s property to prune trees. A person should only cut back branches or roots that are on or over their own property and that cannot cause unnecessary damage to the tree. If a neighbour is concerned that an 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.