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Rooting out conflict over trees

Rooting out conflict over trees

By Karin Derkley

Dispute Resolution 


Leaf litter, overhanging branches, and drain-blocking roots.

Trees and other rogue vegetation can cause a surprising level of conflict between neighbours - and no-one is quite sure how to solve it.

That can lead to disputes dragging on for years, sometimes escalating into pitched battles. Arguments about trees are the third largest category of disputes that come before the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.

Now, the Victorian Law Reform Commission is launching an inquiry aiming to improve the way neighbourhood tree disputes are dealt with in Victoria.

"Currently, there is no simple way to resolve a tree dispute. You can try talking to your neighbours, you can use the services of the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, or you can go to court, which is stressful and expensive," says the chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, the Hon. Philip Cummins.

In Victoria, disputes over trees and vegetation are dealt with via common law, based on torts such as trespass, negligence or nuisance, or under an assortment of local laws and planning legislation. If a dividing fence is damaged or destroyed by a tree, for instance, neighbours can recoup costs or request certain works under the Fences Act 1968 (Vic). Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (Vic), the owner of land can be directed to remove specified noxious weeds.

The processes to resolve neighbourhood tree disputes do no credit to the law, Mr Cummins says. "The law is complex, hard to find, and hard to apply. It should be more accessible, more rational and more coherent."

The VLRC inquiry will be looking to states like New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania which have developed specially-designed laws to deal with neighbourhood tree disputes. New South Wales even has a specialist court - the Land and Environment Court - in which tree disputes can be heard by commissioners with specialist knowledge in arboriculture.

Submissions are invited from the community as to how Victoria should deal with neighbourhood tree disputes, particularly from people who have been involved in a neighbourhood tree dispute. Participants can either carry out an online survey at, or respond to questions in the VLRC consultation paper.

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