I live in a relatively dense part of Grey Lynn and have recently had problems with my neighbours relating to trees on my property. Late last week, I received a letter from my neighbour claiming that trees on my property were dropping leaves onto their property and blocking their sunlight. They say that they require me to remove the trees immediately. The letter has not been written by a lawyer nor does it quote any legislation. Are they able to do this?
Trees are a constant cause of tension between neighbours and often lead to disputes. In regards to what your neighbours are entitled to do about trees that are on your property, they are able to cut back any branches that encroach onto their property. If the leaves that are landing on their property are coming from branches hanging onto their property, then they are within their rights to cut back the branches.
The Resource Management Act protects various trees which may be endangered or indigenous, so if you feel that this applies to any of the trees located on your property, it would be best to warn your neighbours of their significance before they started chopping away at any overhanging branches. Check with your local council if you are not sure whether the trees are protected.
You will not be responsible for any costs involved in your neighbours removing the branches or roots, unless the branches or roots are causing actual damage to their property and have become a legal nuisance. If there has been damage to their property they can apply to the District Court to claim back the cost of removing the offending branches and the cost of repairing the damage. You don’t need a court order to trim overhanging branches.
It is possible that your neighbours could bring the matter to the District Court, where an order can be made requiring you to trim or remove any trees that are dangerous or blocking your neighbours’ view. This would be a costly and time consuming procedure for your neighbours to pursuit this course of action.
Your neighbours have come to you first before pursuing other legal avenues, this hopefully, suggests a desire to preserve neighbourly relations. If your neighbours feels that your trees are dangerous or blocking their view and do take the matter to the District Court, the court will consider whether it’s fair and reasonable to remove or trim the trees. The court will look at whether removing or trimming the tree will prevent; current or potential danger to the property and the people within, any undue obstruction of a view, undue interference with the use and enjoyment of your land and undue interference with drains due to fallen leaves.
The court won’t make an order if it would cause you more hardship than your neighbour would be caused if the order wasn’t made. There is a strong proportionality and reasonableness requirement.
If the court does make an order against you, they can also require other specific conditions, such as you being required to compensate your neighbours for damage done to their property and damage done in carrying out the work.
The person applying for the order must, generally, bear the reasonable cost of carrying out the work. However, they consider the parties’ conduct when deciding who pays the costs. Generally after the order is made, your neighbours will have 20 days to carry out the order. It is also possible that that the order can require you to do ongoing work, such as keeping the trees trimmed.
In short, unless the trees on your property constitute a genuine danger to your neighbours and their property or if the nuisance the trees cause is significant and genuine, it is unlikely that the District Court would give the order requiring the removal of the tree or trees.