Neighbourhood Disputes and How to Approach Them

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Neighbourhood Disputes and How to Approach Them

With Victoria still in lockdown and more people than ever working from home, we have been seeing a lot more of our neighbours than ever before.

Living in a suburban area – or in any area where your property borders another -means you have to live peacefully alongside others and abide by a number of laws that govern how we live as part of a community.

While this results in living together harmoniously most of time, issues can often arise.

Let’s look at the most common disputes among neighbours and what happens if the problem can’t be solved.

Fences

Under the Fences Act 1968 the property owner and the neighbour are equally responsible for any dividing fence.

However, your neighbour is not legally obliged to pay for their share of a fence installation, repair or replacement unless ordered by a court to do so.

Most fencing disputes relate to boundary fences. A dispute can arise when one neighbour either doesn’t believe the fence needs repairing or replacing, is not willing to pay for their share of the cost, or when neighbours can’t agree on the cost, height or position of the new fence.

If the dispute can’t be resolved by the parties involved coming to an agreement, the matter can be referred to the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria for mediation.

Mediation generally requires everyone involved in the dispute to meet face-to-face to discuss their concerns and come to an agreement that is acceptable to all parties.

Disputes that can’t be resolved with mediation are usually then referred to legal proceedings.

Noise

The Environment Protection Authority of Victoria (EPA) defines noise pollution as sound at a level which is annoying, distracting or physically harmful. However, this can still mean different things to different people.

What you may find acceptable may be unbearable to those living around you, and vice versa.

What kinds of things can be the subject of a noise complaint?

Music, power tools, pets, air conditioners and household equipment are the most common culprits.

The EPA Residential Noise Regulations put limitations on certain noisy activities.

If you have a complaint about noisy neighbours, whether it be dogs barking, loud music, power tools or an air-conditioner that won’t let you sleep, you can address the problem in a number of ways.

For an immediate problem, such as a party that is out of control or loud power tools, ask your neighbour in person to quieten down. If they refuse, you can call the police and ask them to intervene.

For ongoing issues, noise complaints can be lodged with your local council.

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria can also help you resolve residential noise problems – the service is free and aims to help people settle their dispute without having to resort to legal action.

Rubbish

Your rates (or those paid by your landlord) cover the cost of residential rubbish removal each week or fortnight – household waste, recycling and green waste, and also for hard rubbish collection throughout the year.

If you need to dispose of types of waste that are not covered by these council services, it is your responsibility to do this without causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger or expense to your neighbours.

These may include:

  • Whitegoods
  • Household chemicals
  • Furniture and household items
  • Asbestos

Contact your local council or Sustainability Victoria for more advice on how to safely dispose of these kinds of rubbish.

If you believe your neighbour is illegally disposing of, burning or dumping rubbish, you can make a complaint to your local council.

Trees

Tree disputes between neighbours usually involves overhanging branches, foliage dropping over the fence and clogging gutters,  and damage caused by tree roots.

What are my rights and responsibilities?

You have the right to remove trees, leaves or branches which encroach on your property – this is at your own cost. You may place any cut branches or roots back on your neighbour’s property for them to dispose of – according to the law, the tree is their responsibility.

If there is any cost involved, you must prove to your neighbour that tree is causing damage or a private nuisance before asking them to pay. If you perform the maintenance yourself and damage the tree in the process, you are liable for these damages.

Some trees are protected and cannot be cut back without a permit. Your local council can tell you if this is the case and also whether a tree is on council land (or on private land, in which case it is not their responsibility).

If you and your neighbour can’t resolve your tree dispute, the next step is to go to the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, where your case will attempt to be resolved through mediation. If this isn’t possible, the case is then heard by Magistrate, whose decision is binding.

Pets

Part of being a good neighbour is keeping your furry friends under control. A dog that constantly barks or that displays menacing behaviour or a cat that uses your neighbour’s garden as a bathroom or is allowed to wander unchecked at night can have serious repercussions for owners – everything from a fine to having the animal destroyed (in extreme cases).

The Victorian Law Foundation has a guide for cat and dog owners in Victoria.

Are you the one being bothered by your neighbour’s cat or dog?

If you can’t resolve the issue by bringing up your concerns with your neighbour, you can make a formal complaint to your local council.

If you have concerns for an animal’s welfare or believe there is a threat to its life, you can call the RSPCA 03 9224-2222 or make a complaint through their website.

Are you buying, selling, building, investing or renovating?

If you are looking for a reputable, reliable and experienced building inspection, call The Home Inspection Hub. We service Melbourne, Geelong and Central Victoria.

Call 1300 071 283, email info@thehomeinspectionhub.com.au or ask us for a free quote today and see how we can assist you under the current restrictions.