Neighbourhood wars and how to prevent them 


You don’t have to be best mates with your neighbours, but it can save you a lot of hassle if you can all get along like rational grown-ups. That means being a considerate neighbour and knowing where you stand when things go wrong between you and the others in your corner of the world.

If your neighbour is doing something which is driving you mad, your first step should be to speak to them about it. They may agree to adjust their behaviour for the sake of harmony between you.

For example, if they are home renovators who’ve been demolishing their lean-to at the crack of dawn at the weekend, you could try persuading them to start at a more civilised hour (a freshly baked batch of muffins might help sweeten them up).

It’s a two way street though – those neighbours aren’t going to take it very well if, after they've agreed to cut back on their DIY time, you celebrate by throwing a high-volume death-metal party at 2am.

You can always contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for help and support when dealing with neighbourhood problems.


Noise

There will always be a certain amount of noise in any neighbourhood – dogs that bark, children who scream in that very high pitch that only the very young can produce, exuberant party noise at backyard barbeques, and early-bird home renovators. These are the signs of a zesty community.

Every local authority has bylaws relating to how much noise is acceptable. If you’ve tried talking to your noisy neighbour without success, your next step might be to complain to your local council. They will send a noise control officer to assess whether the noise is excessive or unreasonable. If it is, they will issue a notice requiring the neighbour to reduce the noise for the next 72 hours. Non-compliance could lead to the confiscation of the noise-making equipment.


Animals

If your ears are ringing with the incessant barking of a neighbour’s dog, and you’ve already tried reasoning with the owner, you can complain to your local council who will send a dog control officer to the property. In extreme situations the officer could remove the dog.

You can also complain to your local council if your neighbour’s dog (or, if you live in a rural community, livestock) keeps wandering onto your property. As always, it’s best if you try talking to the owner first – they may not even be aware of the problem.


Boundary fences

The fence which separates your property from your neighbour’s is a boundary fence and is therefore jointly owned by both parties. This means that you can’t build, repair or remove a boundary fence without first obtaining your neighbour’s consent. You do so by giving them a Fencing Notice (there’s a sample Fencing Notice in the Fencing Act 1978 legislation) which outlines your proposal regarding the fence.

Once your neighbour gets the Fencing Notice, they have the opportunity to agree to your proposal, ask for amendments, or reject it entirely.

If you and your neighbour can’t agree on what to do with the boundary fence, either party can apply to the Disputes Tribunal or District Court for a decision.


Shared driveways

An increasing proportion of households share driveways with neighbours, for example in unit title complexes or cross lease situations. It’s important to use shared property with consideration so that you don’t inconvenience the other people with whom you share it.

When there’s a problem with the use of a shared driveway, as always it’s best to start by discussing it with the neighbour. If this doesn’t lead to a satisfactory solution, your next step will depend on the situation:

  • If you’re a tenant of the property, ask your landlord or property manager to sort it out
  • If you own your home and it’s governed by a body corporate, complain to them
  • Otherwise, seek legal advice.

You can read more about your rights regarding shared driveways on our website.
 

Trees

Trees and other products of neighbours’ gardens can be a perennial problem. Perhaps the leaves on overhanging branches keep blowing onto your roof, clogging up the guttering; the neighbour’s vines are growing over the fence, up and into your attic space; or roots from your neighbour’s tree are threatening to crack your drains open.

In general, if your neighbour’s tree is hanging over the boundary fence and onto your property, you are entitled to cut those branches off. If you do, then you are supposed to return those cut-offs (including any fruit) to the neighbour who owns the tree. Consult with your neighbour first, though. If you’re lucky, they’ll offer to do it for you because they never liked that tree anyhow. It’s a good idea to check with your local council also, in case it’s a protected tree.

You will find more information about trees and neighbours elsewhere on our website. Or, just contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau to discuss your particular situation.