Trees - Tip-toeing in a Green-Coloured Minefield

Everyone loves trees right? Wrong.

Trees are planted when they are about one to two meters tall, add some sun and water and next thing you can, inadvertently, be causing headaches for your neighbours. Common problems include shading, loss of view and even damage. What can you do if your neighbour’s tree is causing you problems?

Talk to the owner

The first and most obvious thing is to talk to the owner of the tree, they may not even be aware of the problem. If after this the owner does nothing then the law provides you with a number of options ranging for self help to filing in the District Court.

Option One - Abatement

The first option is called abatement. Any branches and roots that cross over the boundary can be removed or trimmed. However this option is limited to the extent that the branches/ roots must be on your side of the boundary and must not be done in such a manner that damages or destroys the tree. Should the tree be damaged/ destroyed the owner is entitled to claim compensation. However, before you start ‘trimming the tree’ you should check with the Council to ensure that the tree is not protected under any plan. Any cost involved in trimming is borne by the trimmer (i.e. you).

It is important to note that trimming does not include the use of Round Up or other poisons. Equally if you are cutting roots out take care not to undermine the stability of the tree otherwise you could be liable to the resulting damage should the tree fall over.

Option Two - Court Claim

What happens then if you enjoyed views from you deck and now, thanks to your neighbour’s plantings, your view is gone or your deck is shaded, cold and covered in moss? In this event a claim can be brought before the District Court (Option two). The Property Law Act 2007 states that the Court may order the removal or trimming of the offending trees. The Order can be made having regard to the circumstances to ensure that the order is fair, reasonable and necessary to remove or prevent: Actual or potential danger to life, health or property; undue obstruction of a view and/or undue interference with the reasonable enjoyment of your land. If the problem is the loss of your view then the Court has some additional factors to consider including, the public interest in maintaining a pleasing environment , the importance of the tree (for example the historical nature of the tree)and the effect on the environment of removing the tree.

Disputes Tribunal

The Disputes Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear claims of actual damage up to $15,000.00. This is for things like damaged drains or fences. Actual loss has to be sustained to take an application to the Disputes Tribunal. Otherwise it is off to the District Court.

Take care when ever you feel the need to exercise the abatement option, especially if you are attempting to trim a Native tree. As a final point a common misconception is that regarding the fruit of an overhanging tree. Most people think that the fruit of the tree that hangs onto your side of the boundary are yours. This is wrong the fruit belongs to the owner of the tree.