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Tree and Hedge Heights

Tree and Hedge Heights on Lifestyle Block Boundaries

Although a fair amount of land in the Queenstown and Central Lakes District is ‘lifestyle’ or ‘semi-rural’ in character, there is little guidance around the heights of boundary trees or hedges on these properties.

Resource consent conditions associated with subdivision or land use may sometimes stipulate that boundary trees should be a minimum height, usually so the property can be ‘screened’ from others to preserve visual amenity of neighbouring properties.  It’s not as common for a maximum height to be stipulated.

How high is too high?

There are any number of reasons for property owners wishing to maintain boundary tree or hedgerow height to a particular height, for example as a wind-break or to maintain privacy.  What to do then if your neighbour thinks that height is “not reasonable”?  The first step is to have a friendly chat of course.  Bare in mind that you live in a semi-rural/lifestyle setting, what may be considered a reasonable tree height isn’t as straight forward as if you were in an urban setting.  On the same token, reasonable boundary tree heights are unlikely to be as high as those you often see in predominantly rural settings.  The ideal and obvious way forward is to come to a compromise and agree on a height that works for both of you. 

When to involve a lawyer

If you can’t agree, then we recommend you seek legal advice.  Hopefully the issue can be resolved once either or both parties have acknowledged and asserted their legal rights and obligations on the issue.  Remember that you and your neighbour both have rights and obligations in relation to either your property, or other property that affects you or your use and enjoyment of your property.

If you still cannot agree, the final and relatively costly backstop is to have the Court to decide.

Last resort

The Court has authority and discretion to make an order with respect to you or your neighbours’ boundary tree height under the Property Law Act 2007 (the PLA).  A Court will take into account a wide range of considerations.  To make any order, however, it must be satisfied that:

  • the order is fair and reasonable;
  • the order is necessary to remove, prevent, or prevent the recurrence of one of six specified forms of risk, obstruction or interference; and
  • not making an order would cause hardship for the applicant that is greater than the hardship the defendant would suffer if the order was made.

If someone’s health and safety is at risk, then this clearly trumps other considerations like obstruction of views; interference with growing other trees or crops; interference from fallen leaves or branches or shade; lack of privacy; interference with drains or gutters; general interference on one’s use and enjoyment of their property; and cultural and heritage considerations.

The Court process may often not be worth the cost and angst to you, so it is important that legal advice is sought at an early stage.  Contact Mactodd Lawyers if you need any advice on this issue.

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