The Honourable Cameron Dick
Neighbourhood disputes over trees and fences to be easier to resolve
Queensland neighbourhoods are set to become more peaceful, with the Bligh Government releasing draft new laws that will make it easier for neighbours to resolve disputes over trees and fences.
Attorney-General Cameron Dick said a draft copy of the new laws had been released today for consultation, giving the community a chance to provide feedback on this important law reform.
"The proposed laws will modernise and simplify the way neighbours handle disputes over trees and fences," Mr Dick said.
"The fact is that Queensland's population is growing and we are living in closer proximity to each other, so our laws need to reflect this.
"The Bligh Government is committed to working together with the community to tackle the challenges of growth - and that includes these types of neighbourly disputes that arise from time to time.
"An online survey conducted as part of the State Government's earlier consultation on these issues found that almost 80 per cent of respondents had had a dispute with their neighbour.
"Almost 60 per cent of respondents reported disputes with their neighbours over a dividing fence and 56 per cent had had disputes over dangerous or intrusive trees.
"No one wants their relationship with a neighbour to turn sour over something that could be easily resolved. These laws will make it easier for neighbours to resolve disputes before they get out of hand.
"Friendly, tight-knit communities are one of Queensland's great strengths and the proposed laws will help us preserve this lifestyle."
Key changes proposed in the draft Bill include:
• clearer definitions of "sufficient dividing fence" and the types of trees covered by the proposed new laws
• a framework for resolving disputes between neighbours over trees and fences, including the use of formal notices for contributing to and/or maintaining a dividing fence
• clarification of the responsibilities of a "tree keeper" (usually the tree's owner) to ensure their tree does not cause injury or damage to persons or a neighbour's property
• the use of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to adjudicate disputes.
Mr Dick said the draft Bill was the result of extensive research and broad consultation that examined the most common causes of neighbourhood disputes and how they might be resolved.
"Very early in this process we decided to go to the community and find out what they needed from Queensland's neighbourhood laws," Mr Dick said.
"They told us loud and clear that they wanted laws that were easy to understand and could be applied relatively simply.
"We have modernised the outdated laws regarding dividing fences, which were introduced almost 60 years ago, to ensure they are more applicable to life in Queensland in the 21st century.
"Many people also felt the application of traditional common law remedies to neighbourhood disputes involving trees did not provide a realistic solution.
"The new laws address these concerns, clarifying parts of the current legislation while establishing a formal resolution process for dealing with disputes about trees.
"The Bill will place an obligation on a tree keeper to prune branches overhanging onto their neighbour's land when the neighbour gives notice to them."
Mr Dick said the laws also included a new statutory framework giving QCAT jurisdiction to make orders in disputes over trees and fences.
"Community members need a clear path and practical remedies to help avoid, reduce and resolve disputes with their neighbours over these common causes of disagreement," he said.
"While the proposed new laws will not resolve each and every neighbourhood dispute about fences and trees, the government expects that they will go some way to make our suburbs more friendly and neighbourly places.
"At the end of the day, we want to keep people out of the courts by ensuring they have a clear understanding of their rights, and accessible mechanisms to resolve disputes amicably, as good neighbours.
"The government's dispute resolution centres offer free mediation services to help parties solve their differences without having to go to court.
"Our centres opened 529 files on neighbourhood disputes in 2008-09. Of those files, 239 of them went to mediation and about 73 per cent of those reached an agreement."
The draft Neighbourhood Disputes Resolution Bill is available at www.justice.qld.gov.au, and feedback can be provided until 9 July 2010.
COMMENT: This is a tremendous initiative by the Queensland Government. Neighbourhood disputes over trees and fences are on the increase and these new laws will address the difficulties encountered by fair-minded neighbours who are forced to live next to difficult and uncooperative neighbours.