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Resolving disputes about trees

Information about what to do if there is a dispute between neighbours about trees or tree roots.

Talk to the tree owner

The first thing to do if someone has an issue relating to their neighbour's tree is to speak to the neighbour about this. Gather as much information as possible before discussing this. Consider engaging an arborist, or taking photos of any damage caused. They could even consider getting quotes for the cost of repairs.

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria site has information to help start a conversation with a neighbour about an issue.

See 'Talking to your neighbour about a tree or shrub" in Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria and Dispute Settlement Centre—Trees.

Try the Dispute Settlement Centre

If talking to the neighbour does not solve the problem, then it may be possible to get assistance from the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria. Call the centre and explain the problem. The assessment officer may suggest some practical strategies to tackle the issue.

With consent from the caller, an assessment officer will send a letter to the tree owning neighbour asking the neighbour to call them. If the neighbour responds and agrees to participate, the assessment officer will try to work out the main issue(s) in dispute, and will try to settle the matter by talking to each party by phone. If the dispute remains unresolved and assessment officer believes that mediation may help they will try to organise a suitable date for both parties to attend mediation. Mediations are only carried out during business hours.

The other party is not obliged to respond to the letter or to attend the session. Mediation is voluntary, if the other party refuses to co-operate, then mediation cannot go ahead.

Assessing suitability

When the dispute assessment officer is assessing whether a dispute is eligible for mediation they will consider:

  • if both parties genuinely want to resolve the dispute
  • if both parties are able to understand and participate in the mediation process
  • if either party has a particular vulnerability, such as mental health
  • if either party has expressed fear of the other party, or if any violence has been threatened
  • if mediation has been tried and failed before
  • if the matter is substantial.

See 'Mediation' at Dispute Settlement Centre—Trees.

What to expect at mediation

Mediation sessions usually last between 2 and 3 hours, although they may take longer. It is the role of the mediator to help the parties to:

  • identify and explore the issues in dispute
  • develop options
  • consider alternatives
  • work together to reach an agreement
  • write down details of any agreement reached.

The mediators cannot give legal advice, so each party should find out their rights and responsibilities before they attempt mediation.

See 'Mediation' at Dispute Settlement Centre—Trees.

If mediation does not work

Complain to local council

A person can try to make a formal complaint to the local council. The council will check to see if the tree owner is breaking any of its local laws. For example, if a tree is protected, or is overhanging on council property, such as a public street. Unless local laws have been broken, the council will not get involved in any private dispute between neighbours, for example about overhanging trees or wandering roots. The council is likely to refer the person to the dispute settlement centre for mediation

Apply to court

If the dispute is not resolved during the mediation, then the aggrieved party can apply to court. This could be expensive and should only be considered as a last resort. Anyone considering applying to court is strongly advised to get legal advice first.

See Private nuisance.

More information

Reference

Dispute Settlement Centre

See Dispute Settlement Centre—Trees

The Law Handbook

Fitzroy Legal Service's Law Handbook has the following information about dispute resolution in neighbourhood disputes.

See Neighbour disputes.

Victoria Legal Aid

Our website has a publication, Neighbours, the law and you, that includes information about the mediation process and the Dispute Settlement Centre to help sort out a dispute over trees.

See Neighbours, the law and you.

Updated