Tree Disputes (SA)
Updated on May 03, 2023 • 4 min read • 520 views • Copy Link
Tree Disputes (SA)
In South Australia, disputes about trees sometimes arise between neighbours in urban or suburban areas. If a tree on a residential property is affecting the adjoining property, this may give rise to an action in nuisance. This page deals with tree disputes in South Australia.
Responsibilities of tree owners
A tree owner is responsible for maintaining the trees on their land and ensuring they do not encroach on neighbouring properties and create a nuisance. A tree owner is liable for damage or injury caused by trees protruding onto neighbouring properties if they were aware of should have been aware that the tree posed a risk.
A person is entitled to cut back parts of trees on neighbouring properties if they are protruding over their land. These may be cut at the boundary line. Any branches or roots that are cut off are the property of the tree owner.
A person must not enter their neighbour’s land to cut back a tree without permission. This amounts to trespass. If a person causes damage to a neighbour’s tree in the process of trimming it, they will be liable for this.
Talk to your neighbour
If a person is being affected by a tree on their neighbour’s land, their first step should be to talk to the neighbour and try to resolve the situation privately. The person should inform the neighbour of how the tree is impacting them and what needs to happen. If the situation cannot be resolved directly between the parties, an application can be made to the court.
Is the tree a nuisance?
If a tree is encroaching onto a neighbouring property, it is a nuisance. If a tree has caused damage to neighbouring property, such as roots cracking pipes or branches damaging gutters, the neighbour can ask the tree owner to pay the cost of repairs. If the tree owner does not agree to pay these costs, the neighbour can apply to the Minor Civil Actions division of the Magistrates Court for an order that the costs be paid.
Whether a tree owner is liable for damage caused by their tree depends on whether the tree was overhanging the boundary and whether the damage was foreseeable. Damage is foreseeable if the owner knew or ought to have known that the tree was in a dangerous condition and could fall or cause damage.
If a person becomes aware that a tree is likely to drop breaches, they should draw this to the owner’s attention in writing and keep a copy of the letter. If the tree causes damage, this can be used to help establish that the tree-owner was aware of the problem and failed to take reasonable steps to address it.
If a healthy tree blows down in unusually strong winds and causes damage, this is an ‘act of god’ and the tree owner is not responsible.
In South Australia, a tree is a ‘significant tree’ if it has:
- A single trunk with a circumference of three metres or more;
- Multiple trunks with a total circumference of three metres or more and an average circumference of at least 625 millimetres.
Measures are to be taken one metre above ground level.
In South Australia, a tree is classified as a ‘regulated tree’ if it has:
- A single trunk with a circumference that measures two metres or more;
- Multiple trunks with a total circumference of two metres or more and an average circumference of at least 625 millimetres.
Activities that affect significant or regulated trees
In South Australia, the removal of a significant tree that is still alive requires approval from the council under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (General) Regulations 2017.
Any activity that damages a regulated tree requires development approval. This includes tree removal, branch and limb lopping and ringbarking or topping.
Under regulation 59 of the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (General) Regulations, a person who is given approval to remove a significant or regulated tree may be required to plant replacement trees.
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