Farewell to the revenge hedge
Neighbour disputes are nothing new. From offensive noise to overhanging branches, fence repairs, or the neighbour’s dog damaging your property, disagreements between neighbours happen. Sometimes they can only be resolved in Court.
Until August 2010, one dispute that could not be resolved in Court was that concerning a hedge that blocked the neighbouring property’s views or sunlight. While you could take issue with a neighbour’s tree that posed a risk of injury or damage to your property, or renovations that interfered with your view or sunlight, there was no legal avenue to pursue the removal of a tall hedge.
Obviously the laws seemed a little inconsistent. A review of the Trees (Disputes between Neighbours) Act in late 2009 found exactly that. During the review, which involved submissions from residents, community groups and councils, the term “hedge rage” or “spite hedges” often appeared. In situations such as someone having had a development application knocked back due to their neighbour submitting an objection, an effective revenge would appear to be planting a row of trees that slowly grow taller and thicker, eventually blocking the neighbour’s view more effectively than would a wall. Oh sweet revenge via vegetation.
Sometimes of course, people may simply be unaware how high their hedge will grow. Or grow it for the purpose of gaining more privacy without considering the cost to neighbourly peace.
The recent amendments to the Act target the hedge problem, allowing people to apply to the Land and Environment Court to resolve these disputes. But all efforts must first be made to resolve the issue through discussion or mediation.
For the purposes of the Act, the law relates to two or more trees planted so as to form a hedge, which rises to a height of at least 2.5 metres. If the hedge is found to severely obstruct sunlight to a window (which includes a glass door or skylight), or any view from a dwelling, the Court can intervene.
When making a decision, the Court will consider the extent of the obstruction to views or sunlight, privacy issues, and the benefits the trees have to the community and the environment. The Court might make an order to have the trees cut back, or removed and replaced.
Councils can now intervene if a Court order is not complied with. The owner of the property may then have to pay the costs for work to be carried out, plus an additional administration fee to the Council. And they may face a criminal charge.
Hopefully the amendments will empower people to resolve hedge disputes between themselves, with the knowledge that the law is now on their side. And put an end to the revenge hedge.