Some properties have beautiful views. If you have bought land with a nice view, it makes sense to build your house in a way that takes advantage of that view. For example, you might put your deck outside of the main living area in the house and position the house so that this main area faces the view.
One day, when admiring the view, you notice some trees starting to grow on your neighbours’ property. You hope the trees won’t grow too high, but they do. They grow right in front of your view and block huge part of it. You often reminisce about what the view used to look like, and you start to resent your neighbours (whether or not they intended to block your glorious view).
It can be distressing when that view becomes blocked by your neighbours’ trees. You may wonder what you can do about it, given that the trees do not belong to you. Rest assured that the law can provide some relief.
The law on removing trees blocking your view
The Property Law Act provides a remedy for people adversely affected by trees on neighbouring properties to obtain a Court order for their removal. The Court has discretion as to whether it will make the order, but can require the owner of land upon which trees are located to trim or remove the trees if they unduly obstruct the views enjoyed by a neighbouring property.
The Court’s discretion is not as wide as it may appear; there are some restrictions on the Court’s power. The Court’s discretion to make an order for removal of trees is to be exercised cautiously. The Court may only make an order if it is permitted to do so after having regard to all the relevant circumstances. The Court must consider whether the order to remove trees is fair, reasonable and necessary to prevent an undue obstruction of the view that would otherwise be enjoyed from your land, and whether a refusal to make the order would cause hardship to you, that is greater than the hardship that would be caused to your neighbours.
The restrictions on the exercise of the Court’s discretion do not end there. In determining whether to make an order, the Court must also take into account:
- Whether the trees complained of were already there when you purchased the land;
- The interests of the public in the maintenance of an aesthetically pleasing environment;
- The desirability of protecting public reserves containing trees;
- The value of the tree as a public amenity;
- Any historical, cultural, or scientific significant of the tree.
After considering all these things, an order may be made if, in all the circumstances, “the Court thinks fit”.
Examples of an order for the removal of trees
There have been many cases decided in favour of the applicant where they claim a loss of view resulting from trees planted on neighbouring properties.
Thomas v Broome (2009)
In a case between Mr Thomas and Ms Broome, trees totalling 280 on Mr Thomas’ property had to be completely removed because 69 of the trees unduly obstructed Ms Broome’s view of the Akaroa Harbour, significantly reducing the value of the property and a further 211 trees shaded the property and interfered with access to light. The Court found that the trees served no useful purpose on Mr Thomas’ property and were of little value. The trees were to be removed and the cost of doing so paid by Ms Broome.
Ms Broome gave evidence that before purchasing the property she saw the trees which at the time were only young. They expressed concerns about the potential effects of the trees but received assurances from Mr Thomas that he would not allow the trees to block their view or shade their property. The Court accepted Ms Broome’s evidence and took it into account as one of the matters bearing on fairness and reasonableness.
Yandle v Done (2011)
In a case between then Yandles and the Dones, the Court ordered the Yandles to trim a row of trees on their property which disrupted the sea views of the Dones. The Court exercised its discretion in a conservative manner and decided it was only justifiable to trim five of the nine trees. Doing this restored virtually full water views for the Dones, but still maintained some privacy for the Yandles. It will often not be appropriate for the Court to make an order that restores the views completely, because that would go beyond what is required to prevent the obstruction of those views from being “undue”. You will recall from what I said above, the Court can require the owner of land upon which trees are located to trim or remove the trees if they “unduly” obstruct the views enjoyed by a neighbouring property.