A Guide to Buying Property with Trees

As leading property lawyers in Wellington, we’ve seen our fair share of properties that feature some of the flora Wellington is covered with. There are plenty of places around the region absolutely covered in trees. While trees can be a great addition to any home, they can end up causing issues if they’re mismanaged. Tree life can wind up creating strife between neighbours by blocking views or sunlight, or even lead to structural damage caused by roots. Leaves can block guttering, branches can grow into powerlines, and so on.

To find out what you need to know about managing trees on your new section before you buy, read on.

Properties with trees: what do I need to be aware of?

Fortunately, not all trees present problems. Most of the time, they can be an asset to your new property by boosting resale value, among other benefits. Major issues typically only arise when the tree is planted without proper planning, and without foresight as to how high it will grow. Many trees in NZ can grow to impressive sizes, and underestimating this is the most common cause of problems, both above and below ground.

Tree roots can be especially difficult to deal with, because you really have no idea what sort of condition they’re in. With branches, you can see clearly when they are going to start presenting problems, but with root systems, you likely won’t know until they’ve started interfering with plumbing or foundations and have already caused irreversible damage. When you purchase property, make sure you speak to the previous owners about any root systems that may cause issues further down the line, so you can be adequately prepared.

What are my rights?

Owning property means you have full control over what to do with the trees on it, subject to local council bylaws, as the law states you have the right to the use and enjoyment of the land.

However, trees may be protected for a number of reasons, including historical significance, biological significance, etc. They may also be needed to help stave of ground erosion, especially along the coasts. This means you’ll need to seek certain consents before doing anything drastic, like removing them.

The right to the use and enjoyment of land also extends to your neighbours, so it’s your responsibility to make sure your trees aren’t impeding their rights. You’ll no doubt have heard stories of neighbours chopping branches off each other’s trees when they cross the fence-line. Ultimately, it’s your job to avoid this situation in the first place. Things can get a little trickier when it comes to blocking views, so if you’re worried about this sort of conflict escalating, it could be worth seeking legal counsel.

What if a neighbour’s trees are impeding my rights?

The rules are the same the other way around. While you may be within your rights to hack a branch off a tree that’s encroaching on your property, you’ll need to double-check whether or not it’s protected first and seek the proper consents if it is.

Of course, the best thing to do is talk to your neighbour first.  Reaching an agreement between the two of you and hiring a professional arborist to deal with the tree safely and effectively is by far your cheapest and most effective option, nine times out of ten.

You should only really engage legal entities like the Disputes Tribunal or the District Court as a last resort. If your neighbour refuses to be reasonable,  you can apply to the District Court for an order that forces them to prune or cut down a tree.

Looking for property in the Wellington area?

If you’re in the market for property—with or without a lovely tree—BMC can help. Beyond our legal services, we also offer properties for sale along the Kapiti Coast, and in other areas. Considering selling?  We can help with that too!  To find out more, get in contact with us today.