Disputes with neighbours – what are they all about?

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

So sang Barry Crocker for decades on televisions in Australia and around the world. But what happens if your neighbours are not good. Or if they don’t think you are? Welcome to the world of neighbourhood disputes.

If you haven’t had a neighbourhood dispute, chances are you know someone who has. With a bit of luck, most are resolved over a beer or dinner. But what happens if they are not? And what is it that most neighbours are up in arms about anyway?

Newly published data has provided us with the answers to the latter question, at least in Victoria. According to that data, it’s mostly fences that makes neighbours tense, while trees create unease.

By far the majority of cases that came through the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) in the first three months of this year involved fences. In total, 631 disputes about fences were tabled to the DSCV. That’s well ahead of disagreements about trees, which came in second with a total of 236.

Beyond those two major issues, behaviour, property disputes, co-tenant problems and corporation complaints also featured. Perhaps surprisingly, only 59 cases involved noise. That’s less than 10 per cent of the number of fence disputes.

Is the story the same across the other states and territories?

Readily available numbers are quite sparse, but those that have been published suggest similar frequencies around Australia. A 2020 report, published by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, revealed similar findings. It reported 5310 cases of disputes involving fences, trees and animals compared to 1748 categorised as ‘neighbour dispute – other’.

Likewise a South Australian Legal Services Commission report (albeit from 2012) revealed more than half of neighbourhood disputes involved conflict about fences, encroachments and retaining walls.

Disappointingly, a 2017 national survey conducted by Relationships Australia revealed fewer than half of respondents achieved a satisfactory resolution. That would suggest that we have some way to go towards implementing adequate mechanisms for neighbour dispute resolution.

The same report also revealed that men were more likely to report being involved in a dispute with a neighbour. “More than 60 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men reported they had experienced conflict with neighbours.”

Each state and territory has its own laws for dealing with neighbourhood disputes. In some cases there may even be differences between local councils. Some useful starting links can be found here:

Queensland: Resolving neighbourhood disputes
NSW: Disputes with neighbours
Victoria: Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria
South Australia: Dealing with disruptive neighbours
Tasmania: Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
Western Australia: Dealing with Neighbours
Northern Territory: Community Justice Centre
ACT: Conflict Resolution Service

Whether a national approach would provide better outcomes is a matter of conjecture. For now, though, you’ll have to go through your local authority be that via state or local government.

Or perhaps try taking your lead from the immortal words of Barry Crocker:

With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend
Neighbours should be there for one another
That’s when good neighbours become good friends

Do you get along with your neighbours? Have you ever had a dispute with a neighbour? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How to avoid disputes with neighbours

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. In my experience the major cause of neighbourhood disputes is property owners not having the property surveyed before they buy. We live on an acreage and had our property surveyed before we purchased and again before we built. But we had one neighbour claim our fence was 5 meters inside his property and another thought the property he bought included ours. Further surveys proved both neighbours wrong but one still refuses to accept his survey results. When you live next to fools who buy property without knowing what they are buying, it’s difficult to develop a respectful relationship.

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