Trees are the source of a conflict between neighbours.
Our neighbour’s trees, 10 ornamental pear trees (capital or Manchurian, about 11m tall) have been planted about 1.5m from our fence. Our solar panels are affected by the branches and leaves of those trees. Additionally, a number of tall palm trees are also near our fence and the heavy fronds are crossing our fence line. They are a serious hazard as they are dying out, risking to fall at any time, straight on our terrace and heads. On several occasions, we have asked our neighbours to trim the top of these trees, to allow the sun to hit the panels and allow us to get the benefits of our solar system. These trees also don’t allow us to enjoy the right to light and sun through our bedroom windows. We have had no satisfaction from them. We are at a loss to know what we can do to make them do the right thing. Do we have any legal recourse that can force them to lop or trim those trees? What plan of action do you suggest?
Unfortunately, trees that are a source of pleasure for the owner of the land on which they grow can be a source of irritation for an adjoining landowner.
The best starting point is a discussion with your neighbour, but you have tried that without success.
Usually, the law does not enable you to object to shading from a neighbour’s trees, even if it affects your solar system.
But if branches or palm fronds are hanging across the boundary you are entitled, at your own expense, to cut them back to the boundary, but no further. It would be sensible to inform your neighbour before doing this.
Take care to minimise harm to the tree. The cuttings belong to your neighbour and should be given to them, one hopes by agreement. If palm fronds fall on to your property and cause damage or harm, your neighbour may be liable to compensate you.
You would have to show that the neighbour knew there was a real risk of this happening and failed to take reasonable precautions against this, such as lopping off fronds.
If fronds have already fallen on to your property, there seems to be a real risk of harm being caused. In any event, write to your neighbour (keeping a copy) outlining your concerns, in particular the risk of harm or damage, and point out that you will claim compensation if this happens.
You could explore the possibility of mediation. South Australian Community Legal Centres (visit the website clcsa.org.au) can put you in touch with a mediator who can help.
The Legal Services Commission has a free online publication called “Trees and the Law” that you might find helpful, available on the publications page of their website (lsc.sa.gov.au).
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