Two women who took their neighbours to court over a hedge that blocked their waterfront view have won the dispute, with their neighbours now ordered to prune the offending vegetation regularly.
Catherine L’Estrange and Louise-Anne Louw applied to the NSW Land and Environment Court for orders to be made for their neighbours Allison and Jason Cunial to prune and maintain their hedge at a reasonable height.
L’Estrange and Louw, who live in Ocean Shores, north of Byron Bay on the NSW north coast, said in their application since they bought the property in 2021, their view of the ocean has become obstructed.
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Their property is upslope from the Cunials’ property.
In responding to the applications, the Cunials said they pruned their hedge and contested that it severely obstructed their neighbours’ view.
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The Cunials’ hedge is made up of a row of about 13 lilly pilly trees and forms a screen along the boundary.
The hedge is approximately 3.5–3.8 metres high, but it has been higher.
“This view was the principal view available from the applicant’s dwelling when they purchased it,” Acting Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court David Galwey said in his decision.
“Their living areas, where they and their guests are likely to spend most of their time, have large glass doors and windows facing to the east.
“When I consider these factors together — the value of the view, the extent to which it is obstructed, and the high-use areas from which it was available — I find that trees in the hedge cause a severe obstruction of the applicants’ view.”
Before taking the matter to court, the neighbours had been in negotiations for about two years in an attempt to reach an agreement over the height and maintenance of the trees.
“A matter that might have been reasonably resolved by a neighbourly discussion over the fence has progressed to Court proceedings,” Galwey said.
The Cunials submitted to the court they were willing to maintain the hedge, but their neighbours submitted that was unlikely given their past resistance to pruning and maintaining the hedge at a reasonable height.
The Cunials also submitted the hedge was valuable for their privacy, shading and cooling, and provided a screen to limit overlooking into their home from their neighbours’ property.
The court heard the Cunials pruned the hedge, but only after receiving legal letters or the application to commence court proceedings.
“It seems to me that the parties could have reached a reasonable agreement providing for both the respondents’ privacy and the applicants’ views,” Galwey said.
“Although the respondents expressed a commitment to do so in future, their unwillingness to do so until now, sways me toward making orders for maintaining the hedge’s height.”
After an on-site hearing in June, Glawey ultimately made orders in favour of L’Estrange and Louw.
“I find that the respondents’ lilly pilly hedge severely obstructs the applicants’ view and that the situation justifies making orders for pruning the trees at regular intervals,” Galwey said.
In a decision handed down on Tuesday, the court ordered that during February and August every year, the neighbours are to engage a contractor to prune the hedge, so that it’s no taller than 3.8m in height and so that no branches overhang the boundary.
The neighbours will also be required to provide one weeks’ notice of each pruning event and the pruning should be completed during reasonable hours of the day.