Friday, 27 August 2021

Are you having a dispute with your neighbour? This factsheet will discuss some common neighbourhood disputes, and give you some avenues to get legal help.

When you have a dispute with your neighbour, the last thing you should do is rush to court. The most effective way of working out a solution is usually to talk to each other, with the aim of coming to an arrangement that suits you both. After all, you could be living near each other for a long time to come, so it’s probably in both your interests to stay on reasonable terms.

If you can’t resolve the dispute with your neighbour yourself, you should speak to a lawyer. You lawyer can give you information about your rights, and explain your options for resolving the dispute.

Your lawyer will provide you with alternative options for resolving the problem; instead of going through the court system your solicitor may recommend that you go through mediation as a way of reaching a workable agreement while keeping costs down. A mediator will not make a strict ruling about who is right or wrong, or impose any penalties. Their job is to work with both of you to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement.

If you are in need of a lawyer to assist you with a neighbourhood problem, the Law Society website has a ‘Find a Firm’ function where you can search by practice area type.

Fences

Disputes about fencing are very common between neighbours. Most fencing disputes between neighbours concern the erection of new fencing and its design, sharing its cost, or repairing old fencing.

Private property owners who share side or rear fences are each responsible for half the cost and maintenance of their fences. The basic urban fence is 1.5 metres high and made of hardwood palings. Other fence types can be erected (if allowed at that location) and neighbours agree on the design and cost beforehand.

The ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) has jurisdiction to hear and decide fencing disputes. They can determine the details of a new fence to be built (a ‘new fence determination’), specify how a fence should be repaired or replaced (a ‘repair determination’), or how costs should be distributed when a fence had to be urgently repaired (a ‘repair cost determination’).

Before coming to ACAT, you must give your neighbour a notice to discuss the fence. This sets out what the dispute is about, invites your neighbour to discuss the issue and asks for a response.

Time limits may apply. For more information, please visit the ACAT website.

Noise

If you are being unreasonably disturbed by noise coming from a neighbour, the best first step is to ask your neighbour to reduce their noise or to avoid making noise at certain times of the day.

If they are making noise late at night, such as a house party that is unreasonably loud, you should first ask your neighbour to reduce their noise. If all else fails, you can contact the police who have the power to ask your neighbours to stop.

Local environmental rules govern noise of construction and similar activities. The Environment Protection Act 1997 sets out the law about residential and commercial noise limits in the ACT. There are limits for noise from things such as loud music, air conditioning units, and power tools.

In residential areas, excessive noise is not allowed before 7am (8am on Sundays) and after 10pm. If you are concerned about noise from a neighbour’s construction, use of power tools or similar, you can contact Access Canberra. For more information please visit the Access Canberra website.

Overhanging branches

In the ACT, you are permitted to trim branches that overhang your property. Equally, your neighbours can do so. It is advised to check with your neighbour beforehand.

Some trees may be protected by law. If you are unsure if the tree you wish to damage is protected, contact Access Canberra to check or visit the City Services website.

Finding help

  • Online search: Find a law firm (select 'Neighbourhood/fencing disputes' from 'Areas of practice')
  • Online search: Find a lawyer
  • Call the Law Society on 02 6274 0300 and we can put you in touch with a lawyer or a firm who can help you

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