Trees and neighbours

We explain your rights and responsibilities regarding trees.

fenced home with tree

Suburbs need trees. They are a source of food and shelter for birdlife, they improve the quality of the air we breathe and they beautify our towns and landscapes. But ... they also block the drains, disrupt walls and foundations, hide the view, cast long shadows, and from time to time, fall down. Trees, especially other people's trees, can cause feelings to run very high.

Taking responsibility

If you're a landowner, the law says you have the right to the ordinary use and enjoyment of your land. However, your neighbours also have this right. Nobody may interfere unreasonably with other people's use and enjoyment of their land. This means you are responsible for ensuring your own trees do not cause problems for anyone else.

The issues

There are many factors that can be relevant in deciding what to do about a tree. Apart from health and safety issues, and the benefits to be enjoyed by each party, there is also the public interest. This includes the maintenance of a pleasing environment; the desirability of protecting public reserves containing trees; the value of the tree as a public amenity; any historical, cultural or scientific significance of the tree; and any likely effect on ground stability, the water table or run-off.

If problems arise

If branches of your neighbour's tree encroach on your land, you can cut them back to the boundary line.

If your neighbour's tree is causing problems, the first step is to talk to them. They may not even be aware of your concerns. Give them the chance to fix things, and look for a solution everyone will be reasonably happy with. If, for example, you are worried about shading, it may be that the tree can be thinned rather than chopped down.

A mutually agreeable solution will be preferable to a lengthy, costly and bitter legal battle.

Cutting a tree

If the roots or branches of your neighbour's tree encroach on your land, you can cut them back to the boundary line. In law, this is called "abatement". If you don't want to do this yourself you can ask a district court for an order for the trimming or even removal of the tree.

However, if the tree is not causing harm or loss of enjoyment, abatement may be your only remedy. If you do choose this option, you must do no more than is necessary to abate the nuisance. No unnecessary damage should result, and you should not trespass on your neighbour's property.

Nor may you create any other problems for your neighbour. You must not poison the roots or spray the tree with herbicide, as the consequences would extend beyond your property. If you are cutting out part of the tree's roots, take care not to undermine the stability of the tree or the ground around it.

Cuttings and fruit belong to the tree owner. You can put them back on their property, taking care not to cause any damage, or ask for them to be removed.

If the trunk of the tree extends over the boundary, this does not give you the right to chop it down. A tree planted on your neighbour's land belongs to them, and they will be liable for any damage it causes.

But if the tree was planted on the boundary, you are probably a co-owner. If your neighbour does not agree to have the problem resolved, you can apply to a district court for an order for removal or trimming.

Who pays?

If you have incurred costs in cutting back the roots and branches on your side of the boundary, you probably will not be able to claim them back from the tree owner.

But if the roots of your neighbour's tree have damaged your drains or a branch falls on your house, they will probably have to pay. Even if the damage results from forces outside your neighbour's control, they may still be liable if they could have been expected to know the tree was unsafe, and did not take reasonable steps to make it safe.

This means they will have to pay the costs of fixing up the problem as well as any compensation that may be due.

Even if your neighbour's tree has caused no damage, but is simply being a nuisance, perhaps by blocking sun or light, they may still be liable for the cost of getting the nuisance resolved. This is because tree owners should take reasonable steps to stop the trees interfering with their neighbour's enjoyment of their own properties.

Council involvement

Local councils are generally reluctant to become involved in neighbourhood disputes about trees.

However, many trees are protected. Classification of a protected tree will vary among councils and may include specimen trees above a certain height, native vegetation, or even "blanket protection" of all trees in your area. Before you start to chop down all or part of a large tree, check with the council whether you need special permission.

Other forms of tree protection include the listing of significant trees in a district plan, heritage orders under the Resource Management Act and voluntary protection under the Heritage Covenant provisions of the Historic Places Act. There are substantial fines for ignoring some of these protections. Your local council will be able to supply you with details of its policy.

If your tree is creating problems near a road or public land, the council can issue a notice ordering you to remove or trim it.

Some councils will also supply information on tree care and will give names of recommended arboriculturists.

If your tree is creating problems near a road or public land, the council can issue a notice ordering you to remove or trim it. This might happen if the tree is damaging roads, drains or other public amenities, or if it obstructs traffic or the view of road traffic. Several other statutory authorities also have this right.

If you want to challenge the council's view you can apply to the district court to have the notice set aside. But you will need to be quick: in some situations you will only have 10 days in which to do this.

If you simply ignore the notice, the council can enter your property and carry out the work itself. You will have to bear the cost and may also be fined. In an emergency where there is imminent danger to life, property or roading, the council can do this at your cost with only verbal notice being provided beforehand. But it cannot do more than is necessary to prevent danger.

The council must also look after its own trees according to the same basic rules as everyone else. Most councils have written policies covering this, which vary from council to council.

The first step is to let the council know there is a problem. If you are not happy with the response, you can proceed as if the council was a private landowner: perhaps by cutting back the offending roots and branches, trying to get the council into mediation or even starting legal proceedings.

If you want to plant trees or shrubs on council land, you must get permission. Illegal plantings can interfere with drains or public works, or they may be considered inappropriate for a particular environment. It is also an offence to remove or damage trees or shrubs growing on council reserves, except within the normal scope of abatement.

Resolving disputes

If a tree owner and an aggrieved neighbour can't agree on what to do, several courses of action are open.

Mediation and arbitration
Both mediators and arbitrators are available to help resolve a dispute.

A mediator will help you negotiate a solution to the dispute. An arbitrator will impose a solution. Mediation is less formal and usually less expensive, but cannot be enforced by a court unless you have included enforcement procedures in your agreement. An arbitrated settlement is backed by the courts.

Before you start, you should work out the likely costs. Mediation and arbitration are charged on a time basis, and both parties are expected to pay an equal share, unless another agreement is reached.

Disputes Tribunals
Disputes Tribunals can hear claims for damages to property for amounts up to $15,000 (or $20,000 if the parties agree). Typical examples are claims for damage to drains, driveways, foundations and fences.

However, generally a tribunal referee will not be able to hear claims when the dispute is over loss of light, sunshine or views, or involves removal or trimming of the tree.

District Court
Claims that are not covered by the Disputes Tribunal, or that involve the loss of light, sunshine or views, or that involve the removal or trimming of trees, can be taken to a district court. The court can award monetary compensation for damage caused by a tree. It can also order that a tree be removed or trimmed.

Claims through the District Court will almost certainly require the help of a lawyer and can be expensive.

Member comments

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Marilyn R.
08 Dec 2019
Trees obstructing view and light

Similar query to Dave A. We have 2 neighbours whose trees and smaller bushes are starting to obstruct our beautiful view of the harbour. We have lived in our house for over 60 years and in the past have kept the trees trimmed at our expense. One neighbour has now said we are not allowed to trim the bushes that grow on his property even though they are at the back of his garden and down a bank and he can barely see them. He trims them briefly once a year but they quickly grow back. He has an unimpeded harbour view from the other side of his house. The other neighbour has Sycamore trees that have now grown enormously and obstruct most of our city views and are beginning to affect our light. These trees are behind this neighbour's house and behind their garage so they don't see them at all. Similarly they get an unimpeded harbour view from the front of their house. We have tried to contact the neighbour for months to ask permission to cut the trees which we would pay for but this neighbour never answers their door or notes we leave asking them to contact us. I believe Sycamores are classed as a weed in NZ. What can we legally do?

Dave A.
09 Nov 2019
Trees that obstruct views and light?

The neighbour in front has a few trees that appear to serve no purpose but obstruct our view of the sea (we're elevated a few meters to the East) and another neighbours sunlight (same level as the tree owner but to the South). The trees are in a narrow path on the South of the house, perhaps 1m from our other neighbours boundary and between 5-10m from ours. They're less than 2m from his house.

In times past he allowed me to trim the tops, which restored our view and a little of the other neighbour's sunlight for a while, and I could do that leaving lower foliage behind. But they've now grown to a height that even the lowest branches obstruct the view / sunlight, and the tree-owner doesn't want me to trim any more because he'll then have no foliage at all. The lowest branches are above the top of his own roofline, so all he can possibly see from his house is trunk. The trees may have been useful when they were much smaller but it's hard to see how they're useful to him now.

Can view / sunlight alone be grounds for 'lack of enjoyment'?

Consumer staff
11 Nov 2019
Re: Trees that obstruct views and light?

Hello Dave,

One of our advisers has sent you an email with advice on your query.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

P W.
18 Jun 2019
Neighbours planting a forest on several km of boundary. How many metres off the boundary fence should the first line of trees be?

I would like 30m

Consumer staff
19 Jun 2019
Re: Neighbours planting a forest on several km of boundary. How many metres off the boundary fence should the first line of trees be?

Hi P W,

If your neighbour is planting a forest, it may require a change of land use consent under the Resource Management Act. We suggest you get in touch with your local council about this.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff.

Aroha W.
08 Jun 2019
Neighbours trees fallen onto our lawn

What r the guidelines for removing and disposal of them

Consumer staff
10 Jun 2019
Re: Neighbours trees fallen onto our lawn

Hi Aroha,

If the neighbour’s trees have fallen onto your property, they are then responsible for removing them and fixing any damage caused by the fall.

Our advisers can provide further advice and support if you need it. Feel free to call them on 0800 266 786.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff.

Marie S.
16 May 2019
Council new planting

Our property backs onto a reserve being redeveloped by Auckland city council. The proposed plan is to plant 6 trees that can grow to 15-18 metres high and 4 metres spread. Basically the equivalent of 2-3 Storey double blocked unit. Trees are deciduous so will end up with leaves in the yard blocking gutters and drains. The biggest concern is that they will block sun and views. Request to council to undertake they will not have a negative impact on our property go unanswered. What rights do we and the neighbors actually have.
Everything in council plans suggest that planting should not impact sunlight/view.

Consumer staff
17 May 2019
Re: Council new planting

Hello Marie,

As this is a council-to-private land issue, not private-to-private land issue, your rights are different.

If Auckland Council haven’t been responding to your emails, you can lodge a complaint to get an answer to your question.

Their complaints process can be found here:
https://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/report-problem/Pages/make-formal-complaint.aspx

If you are a Consumer member our advisers can offer more personalised advice on 0800 266 786.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff