The statement “good fences make good neighbours” is most often attributed to the poet Robert Frost. However a version of this proverb or statement exists in many different cultures and languages.

We have seen a spate of neighbour disputes lately and we thought it was timely to outline some of the areas where neighbour disputes most often occur as well as some tips for dealing with them. Squabbles that can seem trifling can very quickly escalate into legal proceedings or, as tragically occurred in Melbourne, disputes over something as simple as a barking dog can lead to the death of one of the neighbours. This is what happened in the case involving Joseph Drago and his Melbourne neighbour Tony Dockerty in 2013.

Some of the more common areas of complaint are nuisance caused by noisy pets, particularly dogs. The Companion Animals Act regulates rights in relation to domestic pet dogs and the Council has the power to make orders regarding the control of noise.

Overhanging trees and branches are also a cause of common complaint. If there are branches hanging over the fence onto your property from a neighbour’s tree you are entitled to prune the branches back to the fence line and you are also entitled to put the branches on your neighbour’s side of the fence. My advice is don’t do this as it is almost guaranteed to aggravate the dispute. If you must prune the tree speak to your neighbour first. All too often these complaints about overhanging branches really amount to a desire to improve views which is a very different ambition.

Noisy renovations are also a common cause of dispute. There are residential noise regulations setting out when construction noise can be made on week days and also weekends. You can contact the Local Council if construction workers do not conform to the regulations.

Fences in need of repair are probably the next in line as a common cause of dispute. The Dividing Fences Act regulates the rights between owners of fences that are on the boundary line and requires each to contribute in certain circumstances to the cost of construction and maintenance of fences.

Things to think about before taking any action

Before insisting upon your strict legal entitlements you should consider whether giving rise to a dispute with your neighbour is worthwhile. In the case of renovations the inconvenience, although considerable, is likely to be relatively short lived. In terms of overhanging trees or branches removal and placement in your own green disposal facilities is likely to be less costly and less productive of dispute than insisting upon your neighbour removing the resultant waste.

Noisy dogs can be a more persistent problem but discussing the matter calmly and politely with your neighbour and suggesting some training or diversion for the animal or animals is likely to be more productive than making repeated complaints to the Council or to the Police.

The overriding feature you need to consider is that once you start a neighbour dispute it almost always gets worse and the consequence will either be expensive legal action and permanent acrimony between the neighbours or the need for one of the neighbours to sell up and move elsewhere. Neither outcome is desirable.

There are often creative ways that you can use to achieve what you want in terms of your neighbour’s behaviour without causing offence and giving rise to dispute. Often spending some money on achieving the result (even if it means you spending more than your neighbour) will be substantially less expensive than paying lawyers to take up the fight for you and can result in continued harmony rather than hostility and tension.

If you need any assistance in relation to ongoing neighbour problems please do not hesitate to click here or call 9525 8688.