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Family Forum: Neighbour’s large gum tree a possum and a fire hazard

Problematic neighbours

QUESTION:

Our neighbour has a very large gum tree right on the fence line, about two steps from our building. Its branches soar above our house roof, depositing leaves, bark and small branches that regularly block our gutters. It cuts off light from this side and well-established fruit trees of ours have died. We are plagued with possums and they use this avenue to scramble over our roof every night. We are retired pensioners and find it increasingly difficult to climb up on the roof to clear the gutters and remove the debris from this tree. I believe this tree poses a serious risk as a fire hazard. I don’t want to get the neighbours off-side, but I believe that either the tree should be removed or the branches that overhang our house by a considerable amount should be removed. These branches are huge and to remove them would require considerable expense and expertise and could only be done with access to their property.

Who should pay for their removal? If the neighbour doesn’t agree what can I do?

ANSWER:

The Panel suggests you invite your neighbour to discuss with you the problems the tree is causing. It may be that your neighbour does not realise the extent of the problem. It may be possible to agree on a mutually acceptable solution. But bear in mind that you cannot expect to stop the problem altogether. You might get off-side with your neighbour, but negotiation is still the first approach.

A community mediation service might be able to help the discussion along, if the tree owner is willing to join in mediation. Approach the South Australia Council of Community Legal Services (phone 08 8384 5222 or visit the website www.saccls.org.au and enter your postcode) for help locating a Community Legal Centre that can put you in touch with a mediator who can help.

There is no simple and cheap solution. That is why the panel recommends negotiation. In brief, the law is as follows.

You have no legal right to complain about the loss of light. The fruit trees were probably affected by shading and competition for water. If so, you have no legal right to complain. Nor can you complain about leaves and bark and small branches blowing across the boundary, even though you need to clean your gutters periodically. You might have a remedy if the tree causes actual damage or is likely to, but this probably means something more than blocked gutters. You are entitled to cut back branches that cross the boundary. You can cut them back to the boundary. But this is at your cost, unless you can persuade your neighbour to share the cost. You should warn your neighbour before cutting back branches. It seems that you are not entitled to access to the adjoining property, so this also requires negotiation.

As you can see, the law gives little protection to a person in your situation.

Free legal advice can be obtained from the Legal Services Commission (phone 1300 366 424). This free advice will be helpful but cannot provide the detailed advice necessary for court proceedings.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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