Disputes with neighbours

Disputes with neighbours

There are laws in relation to many common areas of dispute between neighbours. Below is information about some common disputes, including:

There is also information about what you can do if a dispute with your neighbour makes you fear for your safety.

Disputes between neighbours can have a serious effect on everyday life, but going to court is often not the best way to solve a problem. Legal intervention can be expensive and can take a long time. It can also damage your relationship with your neighbour.

If you and your neighbour can’t reach agreement, dispute resolution may be an easier, quicker and cheaper way to resolve matters.

Fencing between houses

If you are a property owner, you and your neighbour have equal responsibility for the dividing fence between your properties.

If the fence needs to be repaired or replaced there are rules about:

  • who pays
  • the type of fence to be built
  • the notices that you need to give one another
  • how to resolve disputes.

Discuss the work that needs to be done with your neighbour first. If you can make decisions together and agree to share any expenses, get this agreement in writing.

Legally you are required to contribute to a fence that is sufficient for the purpose it is needed. If your neighbour wants a more expensive fence, they will usually have to pay the difference in cost between a sufficient dividing fence and the higher standard.

For more information about your responsibilities see the Dispute Settlement of Victoria’s website.

What you can do if you can't agree

If you and your neighbour can’t agree, you can contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria for advice and a range of free and confidential dispute resolution services.

You can also serve your neighbour a Fencing notice. This is a legal document in writing asking them to share the cost to repair or replace a fence.

If you still can’t agree after 30 days from the date you served your neighbour with a Fencing notice, you can go the Magistrates' Court so a magistrate can make a decision. You need to complete the court’s Complaint (fencing dispute) Form 5A. Get legal advice before you decide to take the matter to court.

If you rent the property

In most cases the owners of the properties are responsible for repairing or replacing a fence. A renter may have to contribute in commercial situations where they have a lease that has five years or more before it expires.

The landlord may ask the tenant to pay for damage to a fence if they caused the damage.

Overhanging branches

Property owners are responsible for branches that overhang a neighbour’s fence or roots that grow onto neighbouring property. If these cause damage or affect the neighbour’s enjoyment of their property, the neighbour can take the property owner to court. If branches from your neighbour’s trees hang over your side of the fence, you can cut off the overhanging branches and place them on the neighbour's side of the fence. Discuss this with your neighbour first – they may be happy to do it themselves. If this is not practical, you can ask the neighbour to get a professional to lop the branches for you.

The same rules apply for tree roots, which can cause damage to plumbing and foundations. Expert opinions from plumbers or engineers are often needed to resolve disputes about what is causing the damage. Once you know what is causing it, and if it is something coming from the neighbour's land, a simple discussion may resolve things.

What can you do

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria can help you if you and your neighbour can’t agree.

If the matter still can’t be resolved, the Magistrates' Court can hear the case, but this can be expensive and take a long time.

Noisy neighbours

Generally there are council by-laws to resolve problems caused by unreasonable noise levels from cars, dogs that bark constantly and lawn mowers, power tools, air conditioners and musical instruments. Contact your local council to find out what the rules are in your area.

Noise restrictions apply to particular times of day. The Environment Protection Authority has information about the prohibited times for residential noise.

What you can do

It’s always best to try to resolve the problem by talking with your neighbour first. The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria has information about resolving your own dispute.

Dangerous dogs and other pet problems

Many of the laws about pets are made by local councils. For example, councils can decide how many dogs you can keep on your property and whether or not you can keep chooks. Check with your local council about the laws that apply in your area.

If you own a pet you are responsible for its behaviour. This includes:

  • any damage that your pet causes, for example, if your pet wanders onto a road and a car swerves to avoid hitting it and hits a fence instead
  • if a dog attacks another person or animal – the penalty depends on how serious the attack is and whether the dog has attacked before – the council may seize and destroy the dog.

Dog and cats are not allowed to wander onto another person’s property. Wandering dogs and cats may be seized by the property owner or the council. If the owner does not collect the animal or if the council believes the dog may be dangerous, the dog could be destroyed.

For more information about dog offences see Dog matters.

See the Victoria Law Foundation’s brochure on Dogs, cats, neighbours and you.

What can you do

If you have a problem with a neighbour’s pet, try talking to the neighbour before making a formal complaint.

If doesn’t fix the problem, your local council can speak to your neighbour on your behalf and may also take the matter to court. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning can help to find your local council.

If someone is injured on your property

If someone is injured on a property you own or rent, you are legally responsible for any injuries suffered. This includes injuries to friends or tradespeople working on the house.

There are exceptions to this. For instance, people who are illegally on the property will not usually be able to sue for injuries they may suffer.

In some circumstances, landlords can also be responsible if they are not keeping the house in good repair. If they have 'occupier's liability' insurance this should cover injuries suffered by tenants or anyone else using or visiting the property. If they don’t have insurance, the injured person can go to court and make a claim for damages. They will have to prove that the owner was negligent. Get legal advice.

The law will take into account whether or not the cause of the injury was known before the injury happened. For example, an injury caused by a broken step that needed repair is different from an injury resulting from a wiring defect that was impossible to detect.

If a dispute with a neighbour makes you fear for your safety

If a dispute with a neighbour escalates and you fear for your safety there are laws to protect you. You can get a personal safety intervention order if:

  • you have been assaulted, harassed or threatened
  • your property is damaged.

What you can do

You can apply for a personal safety intervention order at any Magistrates’ Court in Victoria. However, if you have a non-violent dispute, the court will encourage you to try mediation. For more information about how to apply see Personal safety intervention orders.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with neighbour disputes.

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