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Media Release - Neighbour and Neighbour Relations (20 January 1999)

In the modern urban environment more and more people live in close proximity to their neighbours. This often leads to disputes about a whole range of matters. Most people do not set out deliberately to make their neighbour's lives unpleasant. They may not realise that the noise from their stereo is seriously affecting their neighbour's sleep or that a faulty car alarm disrupts a whole neighbourhood. Similarly, they may not realise that planting a fast growing exotic tree may quickly cause damage to a neighbour's sewerage pipes or restrict sunlight reaching their solar hot water system.

The New South Wales Law Reform Commission today released a report[PDF, 191Kb] which focuses on disputes between neighbours caused by trees and noise. In relation to trees, the report recommends that the owner of a tree should have greater responsibility for any damage it may cause. It proposes new legislation which would make tree owners responsible for ensuring that their trees do not cause damage to neighbouring property or interfere unreasonably with a neighbour's enjoyment of land. The tree owner would be responsible for the cost of preventing tree-caused damage to neighbouring property and would be required to compensate a neighbour for any damage that the tree causes. The report[PDF, 191Kb] also recommends that local councils be given the power to order an owner or occupier to prevent a tree causing damage or further damage.

The report[PDF, 191Kb] also recommends some modifications to a person's common law right to cut off overhanging branches and roots. It proposes that if a person wishes to cut overhanging branches back to the boundary they should give the tree owner 28 days written notice before doing so. It also proposes that the common law requirement that the branches or roots removed from the tree be placed on the tree owners property should be abolished.

The law in New South Wales relating to offensive noise has recently been amended in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. The Commission supports these provisions which provide an immediate and effective way of preventing unwanted noise. The Commission's only recommendation in relation to noise is that the Environmental Protection Authority should prepare guidelines about the drafting of noise control notices and the kind of evidence that is needed to establish that noise is 'offensive' for the purposes of the new legislation.

Commenting on the Commission's report the Executive Director of the Commission, Peter Hennessy said:

'The Commission received a significant amount of evidence that trees and noise are common sources of friction between neighbours. However, the remedies proposed in the report should be regarded as remedies of last resort. Neighbours must talk to each other to try and find mutually acceptable solutions when disputes first arise. Community justice centres are available to help in this process. Reaching agreed solutions in this way is more likely to produce a better outcome and enable the neighbours to continue to live in reasonable harmony. It also avoids the delay, stress and expense of having to go to court to resolve the matter.'

Media Comment: Peter Hennessy (Executive Director) or Ailsa Goodwin (Senior Legal Officer) on telephone (02) 9228 8230.