Neighbourly Disputes

Unfortunately a nasty neighbourly dispute has erupted on our local ‘intranet’.

It is an interesting dilemma though so I am interested in your opinion on the issue (apart from the obvious fact that it doesn’t belong on an intranet!).

Here is it is…

Family A were one of the first families to move into the suburb and upon arrival purchased a tree for their backyard that they liked and that would grow to be a large shady tree. It is now a sizable tree and quite nice looking. However they planted it in the corner of their yard and as a result the branches overhang neighbour’s fences. It is a tree that drops leaves and pollen at different times of the year. Family A had spoken with their neighbours and agreed to keep the tree trimmed at the fenceline so as not to cause problems.

Family B (the original occupants of the neighbouring house) were ok with this, however they sold their house to Family C who decided to install a pool. In conversation family C were advised by family A that the tree was there to stay and while they would do their best to keep it trimmed, it would

divx eternal sunshine of the spotless mind drop leaves etc. It seems Family C were not happy with this arrangement, but proceeded to install their pool.

Recently Family C’s pool filter was clogged by leaves from the aforementioned tree and it cost over $300.00 to fix. Family C then hired a treelopper to prune the tree and agressively (it seems) pruned the tree right back to the fence-line leaving it out of balance and looking odd. Mrs A was deeply hurt by the degree of the pruning and felt the tree was so badly damaged as to be almost worth taking out of the ground…

She then vented on our intranet in an emotional post that was later discovered and responded to by her neighbour. Not surprisingly there are two sides to every story… and I am not in a place to say who is right and wrong here.

But it does raise some interesting questions.

> Do trees have priority over pools if they were planted first? Were Family A quite within their rights to say ‘the tree is staying

and that’s that’?

> Were family C unwise in even installing a pool near a tree like that?

> Are Family C justified in pruning the tree to the boundary even if it affects the health and appearance of the tree?

Was there a ‘third way’ solution that may have been unwieldy but may also have saved relationships? It seems that so often in disputes of all kinds the ‘simple’ solution suits one party or the other, but the ‘third way’ while more time consuming actually brings a more satisfactory result for all. But it requires more effort communication and negotiation. It seems these qualities were lacking in the attempts at resolution.

On one level this seems like a lame neighbourhood dispute that is hardly worth the time it has taken me to describe it here, but on the other hand it is the stuff that makes and breaks neighbourhoods. People find themselves unable to resolve even the simplest of disputes and ill feeling pervades the community. People ‘talk’…

This one has been unfortunately visible for all and now I imagine both parties will feel embarrassed. Its the stuff that would seriously cause people to consider moving house.

So there is the practical issue of ‘right and wrong’ that seems to me to be quite complicated, and then there is the relationship issue where we can simply tell one another to ‘piss off’ because in suburbia it is quite possible to live alongside one another and never actually have to engage.

I have some reflections that I will save for the comments, but what would you see as a way forward for the feuding families?

Is someone in the right and someone in the wrong, or is it just the complicated nature of things in neighbourhoods?

9 thoughts on “Neighbourly Disputes

  1. Our neighbour made it clear in discussions at various times that he didn’t like Palm trees and he was going to get someone in to cut down the very large palm trees in his backyard. I was cool about that, but one day he called me over to show me how our adjoining fence was leaning over towards his place. It suddenly twigged that he was saying that the Palm trees on my side of the fence were offensive to him. We like the trees on our side because they provided shade in a spot where we needed it. However, in the interests of good neighbours, the day the loppers came in to cut his Palms down we got them over to cut ours down at the same time. The job turned out a lot cheaper because they were doing a job lot (a neighbour on the other side also got them in at the same time)and neighbourly relations were saved. If we had held to our guns, I could see that when it came to replacing the fence we most likely wouldn’t be able to share the cost of replacing the fence so there were going to benefits in taking action that was not our first choice. For us, the issue was what is most important – good relations with our neighbours or maintaining our “rights”? We chose the first.

  2. this is a great example of how our choices in life impact those of others – a fact we cannot escape even if we wanted to.

    what to do???

    interestingly in this case, what is “right” seems to constantly change, leaving you with an “essence” of rightness which guides your ultimate outcomes.

    as far as you can, try to live at peace with everybody. tough in practice for sure.

  3. That’s great Rob

    Its a picture of our values genuinely shaping our response.

    When we value people over our own autonomy & rights then we can make the choice to let ourselves be ‘taken advantage of’.

    I would not find this at all easy!

    But situations like this do reveal our true values rather than our ‘preferred’ ones – the ones we we live by when the going is good.

  4. I miss living in a town without fences. Fences seem to only complicate things. I know you’re looking at more of the mechanics behind neighbourly disputes and this might seem rather naive and simplistic. But, what about a pool cover? At least there is an opportunity for neighbours to become closer through resolving the differences.

  5. In some cities, with the current water supply situation, it would not be considered good form to install a new swimming pool at all. Especially when you live near the beach.

    I imagine you are allowed to cut to the fence line (or take fruit on your side). And the tree will look a lot odder from the pool side than that of the tree owners.

  6. According to the law, the branches (and roots) can be cut back to the boundary( And from memory, it doesn’t matter that the tree was there first.

    I really disliked dealing with neighbourhood disputes when I worked in local government. Usually, it came down to due process and attitude; often due process wasn’t followed by one of the neighbours and the attitude of both parties stunk so that nothing would satisfy either of them.

    As Christians, we need to remember that it is the heart attitude that matters to God.

    By the way, the best place to plant a tree these days, is in the front yard away from the side boundary, or even get the Council to plant a tree in the verge (or do both!) And do some research into the species that you choose. Also, I’d suggest not planting anything in your backyard that has a mature height of more than 1.8 metres (the height of your fence) or has invasive root system (do your research!) If it’s about shade or the environment, there are plenty of alternatives these days.

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