Love thy neighbour? Your house is your safe place, your haven and protection for you and your family, but neighbour disputes can cause a disturbance to suburban life. Ideally, you and your neighbour should be able to resolve a problem by discussing the issue and acting reasonably. However, if this is not feasible, there are a number of laws that can help you. We will look at the common neighbourhood disagreements and the practical solutions to how you may overcome them.
Boundaries and Encroachment
When you purchased your property, you would have been shown a copy of the Certificate of Title for the property. The boundaries of your land were fixed by a land transfer survey when the land was first subdivided and cannot be altered without your consent.
Before purchasing a property, always check where the boundary lines run and do not rely of existing structures, natural boundary markers or the real estate’s judgment to establish the exact boundaries of the property.
Encroaching is technically a trespass for which the current owner is responsible regardless of whether they erected the structure or physical boundaries. This could include fencing, paths, walls and buildings.
The overhanging of tree branches that are causing a nuisance can also be considered encroaching. If the neighbouring tree branches are invading your property, they can be trimmed back to the boundary line (but not further) unless the tree is considered protected. It is advised to talk to the neighbour or local council before you proceed.
A district court can make an order for a tree or structure to be removed if there’s actual or potential danger to the applicant’s life or property, or if the tree is obstructing a view and potentially devaluing the house.
Generally, the cost of carrying out any work is borne to the person applying for the order unless the tree structure is causing damage to the property.
Many incendiary disputes between neighbours develop over fences – about fences. Land and property owners can enter into an agreement concerning fencing matters, usually bound by the Fencing Act of 1978. Once an agreement is in place and registered against the titles of the land, it is active for a period of up to 12 years, unless otherwise agreed by you and your neighbours:
- Fences must be on the boundary line.
- The cost of building or repairing a fence is the equal responsibility of the adjoining owners in which case the neighbour has to be notified and presented with the estimated costs and consequences of failing to comply.
- If the correct procedure is not followed, the occupier of the adjoining land will not be liable to contribute to any costs.
- If the neighbour objects to the erection or repair of a fence, a District Court or Disputes Tribunal will decide the issue.
- Under the Property Law Act 2007, it is possible to apply to a District Court for an order to remove or alter a fence that is obstructing a view – usually at the cost of the person applying for the order.
Noise and animals
Reoccurring disputes over noise, animal trespassing and smells may become a legal nuisance. It is a very complex area so speak to your lawyer before you act. The Resource Management Act 1991, provides various remedies in the case of persistent noise and nuisances.
When there is excessive noise from a property, the council can be notified. They will then dispatch a noise control officer (NCO) to assess the situation. If there is an excessive amount of noise, a notice will be issued and signed by the accused that states unless the noise is maintained or stopped immediately, the source of the noise will be removed. If the noise returns to an unreasonable level after the NCO has left, a further complaint can be made to the council who will dispatch the NCO to remove the source of the noise, usually accompanied by a police officer.
Animals are expected to be kept under control by their owners at all times. If a neigbouring dog enters your property and causes distress or damage, it is the neighbours responsibility. Cats seem to have roaming rights, so generally the owner is not liable for their toilet spots of preference or damage to plants.
Barking dogs can be a nuisance and cause disturbance to the peace of the neigbourhood. Often, it’s the dogs’ anxiety of being separated from their owner or out of boredom. Your neighbour may be unaware of the situation so it is best that you talk to them first. The neighbour is legally obliged to take a reasonable step to stop the disturbance. Should the disturbance continue, you can approach your local council who will refer the complaints to a dog control officer. It is recommended that you keep a log of the incidences for reference.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation that a neigbour is causing you distress and preventing you from enjoying the sanctuary of your home, we recommend you contact your lawyer for advice to console the situation.