COVID-19 responsible for record number of neighborhood disputes in South Australia

COVID-19 is blamed for a record number of disputes between South Australian neighbors, with many of the squabbles related to disagreements over trees.

The Legal Services Commission said it handled a record 8,400 disputes last year, with disputes over trees rising 24 percent since 2019.

In the past year, there have also been more than 5,000 fencing disputes, 120 questions about neighborhood noise and 100 questions about dogs.

The committee’s Chris Stone said part of the reason for the increased number of disputes could be that people were spending more time at home because of the pandemic, and that higher-density living was becoming more common.

“In the last few years, many of us have been at home a lot more, either working from home or isolating at home,” he said.

“Many of us sit in our makeshift workplaces, looking out the window and seeing trees or noticing things about neighbors or the neighborhood in general.”

Chris Stone is a lawyer with the Legal Services Commission of South Australia.Twitter: Legal Services Commission SA

Urban sprawl was also blamed, with Mr Stone saying that people who lived close together often noticed what was happening in their neighbourhood.

“There’s been a lot of development, subdivision into neighborhoods, especially inner-city neighborhoods, and people live much closer,” he said.

Houses on a hill
The number of neighborhood disputes in South Australia has soared since the start of the pandemic.ABC News: Eugene Boisvert

“They see trees [and] Boundaries sometimes have to be pushed back because it is discovered that they are actually not in the right place and trees can disrupt that.”

Mr Stone said many of the complaints related to problems with trees above and below ground – from trees standing too close to fencing to problems with root systems that lift concrete and pavement.

While most complaints with neighbors can be resolved out of court, Mr Stone said many of the inquiries that came to the committee required intervention.

“The people we hear from in a very broad way are the ones whose problems haven’t been resolved through conversations, so unfortunately we’re not hearing the good stories,” he said.

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Trees and fences source of increasing neighbor dispute in South Australia
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“But we always recommend that you have a constructive, reasonable, and calm conversation with your neighbor.

“Go knock on the front door. If you haven’t, go ahead and introduce yourself.

“It’s extraordinary how many of us don’t really know our neighbors these days.

“If you can establish a conversation and good dialogue with the neighbor, that’s the ideal way to solve the problem … the court should always be the last resort.”

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