Surely, our lives are so much more pleasant with a few trees growing around our homes, adding shade and greenery, smoothing the sharp edges of the urban landscape. However, trees grow as they will and that’s when trouble begins. They break property lines with their burrowing roots and overhanging branches, they disturb the neighbour’s foundations, and their leaves clog the neighbour’s gutters. The damage and nuisance they cause can bring otherwise friendly neighbours into dispute.
A report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) on Neighbourhood Tree Disputes, tabled in Victorian Parliament yesterday, recommended the creation of an Act to bring greater certainty, clarity and efficiency in resolving disputes about neighbourhood trees. The Commission further recommended disputes be determined by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The report, emerging from the Commission’s community law reform program, came out of public concern over the unclear state of Victoria’s laws regulating tree disputes between property owners. Initiated in June 2017, the inquiry looked at the laws governing disputes between neighbours of private land involving trees that caused damage.* A consultation paper published in December 2017 drew 38 submissions from a range of stakeholders from property owners to arborists to government agencies. Current practices in tree dispute resolution in Victoria and other states came under the review. The report also considered whether laws should be changed to provide better, fairer ways of resolving such disputes.
Former Acting Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Bruce Gardner PSM, who oversaw the publication of the report, said today: ‘Initiated by the Commission as a community law reform project, our Neighbourhood Tree Disputes inquiry reached deep into the home lives of many Victorians. A growing tree has no respect for fences or property lines, and it became clear to us early in the inquiry that current methods for resolving these disputes are unclear and confusing. As a result, disputes often worsened, straining neighbourly relations.’
Commission Chair the Hon. Anthony North QC said, ‘Coming out of extensive community consultation and discussions with government agencies here and interstate, our report’s key recommendation is for the introduction of a Neighbourhood Tree Disputes Act to assist neighbours to resolve their disputes quickly, affordably and effectively. Determination of disputes under the new Act should predominantly be undertaken by VCAT, whose processes are suitably informal, flexible, accessible and efficient.
‘We hope our recommendations will lead to better and clearer laws and procedures for neighbours to resolve their disputes about trees,’ he said.
*Note: The Commission did not consider disputes about trees on public land or disputes about trees that block sunlight and views.