If you have trees on your property, you have certain rights and responsibilities as a tree-keeper. In order to avoid neighbourhood disputes, you need to understand what those rights and responsibilities are before you call out the arborist to carry out any tree work.
Here's a brief overview to help you stay on the right side of the law and on good terms with your neighbours.
What is a 'tree'?
In the eyes of the law, a tree is more than a simple living trunk with leaves and branches. A tree can also be a woody perennial plant or shrub including cacti, bamboo and even banana plants. Dead trees and even bare stumps are included too, and you're also responsible for the roots.
Who is the 'tree-keeper'?
A tree that is completely situated on your land is obviously your responsibility, but you're also classed as the tree-keeper if most of the tree is on your boundary line. In cases where trees are situated equally on the boundary lines of several properties, each owner carries shared liability and responsibility for the trees. In this case, you will need to agree with your neighbours whose turn it is to call out the arborist when the trees need lopping.
In the majority of cases, it's the registered land owner of the land the tree is growing on who is the tree-keeper. This also applies to organisations and companies who have trees growing on their premises. If you're not sure who owns the land a troublesome tree is growing on, you can find out in the freehold land register.
In the case of national parks, the state is not considered to be the tree-keeper. However, if you hold a permit to reside or graze stock on national park land, you will be defined as a tree-keeper.
What are your responsibilities as a tree-keeper?
Your primary responsibility as a tree-keeper is to maintain your trees so that they do not cause nuisance to your neighbours. This includes arranging for routine maintenance works like cutting and removing any branches that overhang your neighbour's property.
Overhanging trees could cause damage to neighbouring buildings or property. Masses of fallen leaves and rotting fruit could ruin your neighbour's enjoyment of their garden. Particularly large overhanging trees could present a serious safety hazard to people using your neighbour's garden if you allow dead wood to accumulate which could fall and injure someone. It's up to you to keep your trees from causing such nuisance by having them regularly cut back or lopped.
Other common causes for complaint are overgrown trees that interfere with satellite or TV reception, obstruct views or cause excessive shade. Sometimes a tree's roots grow underground beneath a neighbouring driveway causing damage to the surface. If this occurs, it will be your responsibility to have the tree cut down and to make good the damage it has caused.
If you or a contractor needs to enter your neighbour's property in order to carry out tree work, you must notify your neighbour and make sure they are happy for you to proceed. It's up to you to make sure that your contractor has the appropriate insurance in place before he carries out any tree work on your neighbour's land.
Some species of tree are subject to a Vegetation Protection Order (VPO). If one of your trees falls within this category, you will not be permitted by your local council to have it cut down or lopped. A VPO can even be applied to protect wildlife that might be using one of your trees as a nesting site. If you cause damage to a tree that is subject to a VPO, you could incur a substantial fine.
If you are uncertain whether one of your trees is protected, check with your local government authority.
It's important that you understand your responsibilities as a tree-keeper, especially if your trees overhang neighbouring properties. An arborist from a business like Agility Professional Tree Service Pty Ltd will be able to give you more advice about correctly maintaining your trees.