Owning a house gives you the opportunity to make the most of your garden, turning it into a pleasant environment for you and your family to enjoy. At the same time, this enjoyment comes with rules and responsibilities.
Before you make any major changes, such as cutting down trees, it’s recommended that you check with your local council to find out about relevant state legislation. This also applies if you have a nature strip or if your neighbour’s trees impinge on your property.
Cutting down trees
Across Australia, if you want to cut down a tree on your property, or prune more than a limited per centage of its branches, you usually require permission from your local council. To get permission you will likely need to ask your local council to do a tree inspection and you’ll have to pay applicable fees.
If you don’t have approval you may be liable for significant penalties. For example, if you remove a native tree illegally in NSW you could be liable for a fine of up to $1.1 million if prosecuted under the Native Vegetation Act 2003i .
As with several other council areas, residents of the Pittwater local government area in Sydney’s Northern Beaches won’t need permission to remove:
- damaged branches
- branches that are overhanging or touching buildings, or
- branches that are within two metres of telephone or electricity power wiresii.
All councils have Tree Preservation Orders under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, which list tree species protected in that areaiii.
But for some homeowners this changed last year, when the NSW Government – with the Rural Fire Service – introduced the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice. Across the state, residents living within 350 metres of a designated bushfire-prone area can clear any trees within 10 metres of their homes, and shrubs and vegetation within 50 metres without permissioniv.
A nature strip (or street verge) – the strip of land between a residential property boundary and the adjacent roadway – is aesthetic, reduces stormwater run-off and adds a touch of greenery.
In all states, under general council rules, homeowners (and tenants) are responsible for their nature strip’s safe upkeep. For example in the ACT, residents must ensure there’s adequate space for pedestrians to pass on the strip, and for rubbish and recycling binsv.
Some people extend their garden onto the strip, but if they plant anything other than grass, in most cases they require council approval, such as the regulations in the northern Melbourne suburb of Whittlesea in Victoriavi.
Other councils, such as the Mornington Peninsula Shire, have made exceptions. Last year the Shire passed the Private Works on Nature Strips and Road Reserves Policy, which allows residents to grow fruit and vegetable on their strips – as long as they share the produce with the communityvii.
Most homeowners strive for good neighbourly relationships, but sometimes a neighbour’s tree can lead to misunderstandings. This can happen when their tree branches:
- overhang your property,
- drop fruit into your garden
- inhibit your TV reception
- block sunlight for solar panels, or
- their roots poke up in your yard, creating a potential safety hazard.
The Queensland Government offers a helpful step-by-step guide to resolve tree and fence disputes: it’s important to check with your state and local government for rules and legislation that affects you.
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iAustralian Institute of Criminology 2010, Illegal native vegetation clearing, viewed 23 March 2015,
iiPittwater Council, Tree Removal, Application, Fees and Charges, viewed 23 March 2015,
iiiNatural Resource Management for NSW Local Government, What are Local Government’s roles and responsibilities in relation to NRM? , viewed 23 March 2015,
ivNSW Rural Fire Service, 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice for New South Wales, viewed 23 March 2015,
vACT Government, Territory and Municipal Services, Nature Strips and Rain Gardens, viewed 23 March 2015,
viCity of Whittlesea 2014, Nature Strip Guidelines, viewed 23 March 2015,
vii‘Mornington Peninsula residents can grow produce on nature strips’, Mornington Peninsula Leader, 26 November 2014, viewed 23 March 2015,