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Family Forum: Neighbourly dispute

Getting to the root of the problem with trees

QUESTION:

My father in law has three medium trees in his yard. The neighbour behind has complained of leaves falling into his shed gutter. The father in law has removed one tree and trimmed down another and has also cleaned their gutters for them. They have continued to approach him in regards to even more leaves getting into their gutters. He believes he has done enough but the neighbour wants him to remove all of his trees or clean his gutters every two months for them. They have become aggressive in speaking to him and also wrote him a letter threatening to take matters further if he doesn’t reply in 14 days. The neighbours refuse to acknowledge that the other surrounding houses also have similar trees that could be contributing and will not address if they even have a permit for their shed. We would like to know if there is any legal liability to clean up leaf fall?

ANSWER:

The Panel considers that your father in law has done all that could reasonably be asked of him, probably more.

Ordinarily a landowner is not liable to clean up leaves and branches that drift across the boundary onto a neighbour’s land, or into his gutters. The neighbour is entitled to cut the trees back to the boundary, and to return the cuttings to your father in law. But your father in law is not obliged to cut the trees back nor to clear out his neighbour’s gutters. There is no suggestion that the trees present a real risk of damage to the neighbour’s property or buildings on it. If there was such a risk, your father in law might be liable for such damage. For more information, the Legal Services Commission has an excellent brochure, Trees and the Law, available on their website: lsc.sa.gov.au/resources/TreesandtheLawBooklet.pdf

However, it is worth trying to have a good relationship with the neighbour. Your father in law should consider talking to the neighbour or writing to him, explaining that the neighbour is asking for more than he is entitled to, your father in law is not being unreasonable.

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