The most common disputes between neighbours- and how to resolve them

5:45 pm on 9 July 2024
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In the last year, Citizens Advice Bureau handled 6000 disputes about fences, boundaries, trees, noise, shared driveways, Andrew Hubbard tells RNZ's Nine to Noon.

Fences and boundaries are the most common causes of friction followed by trees, noise then parking, he said.

"The most common issue really with fences is agreeing on the cost and the nature of a fence. Legally, on your boundary, if you want to have a fence put in place, your neighbour has to pay 50 percent of an adequate fence."

This is where the disputes can arise, he said.

"What's adequate? What the cost of the fence is obviously a key factor in all of these issues. We always recommend first just talk to your neighbour, even before you ever have a desire to build a fence, go talk to your neighbour anyway, it's much easier to have a nice conversation with them if you're already on speaking terms."

Once you agreed to the type of fence with your neighbour, get it on paper, he said.

"Even if it's just an email or something like that. So, if there's any dispute later on, it's clear what people have agreed to."

If you have specific ideas about the fence you want over and above the norm offer to pay more of the cost, or all of the cost, he said.

Secondly is the fence actually on the boundary, not all of them are, he said.

"Obviously, you might have a general idea of where the boundary is, and you might put up the fence, and then that's all fine.

"Your neighbour sells the house, somebody comes in and they want to subdivide, or they want to do something and they've discover the fence is 50 centimetres on the wrong side of the boundary. They can basically legally require a new fence to be built and you have to pay 50 percent of the cost of this."

Fences don't come cheap so consider getting a surveyor in, he said.

"It might feel like it's a bit of money to have a surveyor come out, but in the longer term, you never know what's going to happen in the future in terms of changing neighbours changing the way they use in property."


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What about trees? The rule of thumb is if you're the owner of the tree, you're responsible for the impact of the tree, he said.

Branches are little more complicated however. If the branch is coming over your fence, you have a right to do something about it. You are also entitled legally to put the clippings over the fence - not something he recommends.

"You absolutely can legally but for good neighbourliness you probably don't want to."

The clippings, the fruit, anything that is part of the tree belongs to the neighbours, so that mean in theory you can't eat that apple over hanging the fence, he said.

More vexed was when trees and hedges block light and views, he said.

"Again, it's about talking to your neighbour. Maybe you can come to agreement about the cost of regularly trimming the tree."

If it ends up in the hands of the district court there was no clear cut ruling, he said.

"The court is weighing that the owner of the tree has a right to a tree and you have the right to reasonable enjoyment but is blocking your view outweighing the right to the tree - possibly, possibly not."

Damage to drains and driveways

The owner of the tree was responsible for the damage caused by that tree, he said.

"You would legally be liable for having to pay for the cost of clearing the drain or repairing the driveway or whatever, it's your tree, your responsibility."

Listener questions

A neighbour has a huge macrocarpa planting on his side that entirely shades most of our property throughout winter, his property's elevated above ours and to the north, which already puts us on the shade prone side of a hill. There's a road between us which puts us at disadvantage in terms of challenging via local council-prescribed boundary distance, the saddest part for us, we designed and built our home to be passive solar. So there's another matter we no longer get the sun till mid-afternoon.

Talk to the neighbour first, Hubbard said.

"Maybe come with a positive suggestion, we will pay to trim the trees, pay to keep them thinned. Because if you want to take a legal route or a district court order, and you'd have to show that your loss of amenity is greater than your neighbour's.

"And that's not a very conducive thing, in terms of relationship with the neighbour either."

I have a neighbour who refuses to thin or reduce the height of the trees on his property along the boundary fence which borders our property and that blocks my sunlight to the north, I struggle to grow things in my garden, the lawn has turned to moss, moss has grown on my driveway.

"Potentially, you could have joint ownership on the boundary line. So that's something that could be worth investigating. Where are those trees compared to the boundary? Because then you will effectively be the co-owner of them."

Do I legally have to pay for the costs of the overhanging branches of my gum tree which the neighbour's says the leaves are filling up with gutters arborist told me I don't legally have to, neighbour tells me that I have to, advice from council and legal advice website is vague?

"In terms of the cost of trimming the overhanging normally that's with the person who's doing the trimming, even though it's the other person's tree."

We have an uphill neighbour with a water tank overflow and now lawn earthworks leading to our back garden and carport becoming water feature and pond. The excuse of no money to remedy is given.

"Talk to your council for that sort of situation. We actually saw a lot of those sorts of situations around the Auckland flooding.

"Many people realising what's happening on other people's property is potentially going to cause us significant problems."

We're rural, the problem's arisen with our new neighbours, the dogs are getting into our paddocks, I like to be able to run my own dogs on our property, but my pup was attacked by one of the neighbour's dogs it was a horrific, vicious fight to witness. I spoke with the neighbour, he said his dogs are confused about where the boundary is and he doesn't have time to run an electric wire under all fences. Unfortunately, I'm now too frightened to use my own paddocks to run my dogs.

"Councils are responsible for dog control. They will have a dog control officer, or an animal control officer, best thing is make contact and with explain the problem. They can go talk to the owner, explain what the issue is and ask them to remedy the problem.

"Normally, the dog control or animal control officer, starts out with trying to make positive suggestions about how to improve situation, but they can move on to giving notices."