Body corporate or me: Who is responsible for tree maintenance?
Trees play a crucial role in enhancing the aesthetics of a property, especially well-established trees. They can even lift property values. However, neglecting tree maintenance can lead to decreased property value and pose safety risks for people and property alike.
On a single-owner property, it’s easy to work out whose job it is to maintain trees. But what about properties governed by a body corporate? And what recourse do you have if there is a problem?
Please note: this is a general article intended to give broad advice about body corporate obligations for tree maintenance. It is not legal advice, and we recommend you consult your by-laws if you find yourself in a dispute about tree maintenance. There are potential legal implications for removing or not maintaining trees property.
Responsibility for tree maintenance on common property
Typically common property areas, such as shared driveways, are the responsibility of the body corporate. This includes basic upkeep tasks such as trimming/pruning, but also ensuring the overall health of the trees through branch maintenance etc. Ideally this should involve the services of a qualified arborist inspecting the trees on a regular basis. Poorly maintained or unhealthy trees have an increased risk of shedding branches or falling over, potentially harming people or damaging property. Liability for this falls to the body corporate. They are also responsible for the removal of stumps and branches or any other debris from trees (or any plants) in these common areas.
If there is a dispute or concern about a tree on common property, this needs to be raised with the body corporate, either in writing or at a meeting, for action. If trees are designated as protected, the body corporate is also responsible for maintaining these trees as required by the protection authority.
A body corporate can also specify requirements for individual lots through by-laws. For trees covered under these rules, the property owner is generally responsible for maintenance.
Responsibility for tree maintenance on private property (not common use)
If a tree is on a private lot (i.e. a property owned by a person or persons, not a common area managed by the body corporate), then the tree is the responsibility of the property owner. This includes trees etc. that were planted by the developer or a previous tenant/owner of the property.
The specifics of the required maintenance will depend on the body corporate’s bylaws, but will typically include maintaining the tree, including pruning. It also means that if for some reason the tree needs to be removed, the cost will be incurred by the property owner.
It is important to remember that trees can impact the property surrounding them, whether there is a structure there or not. Branches can impact fences, and leaves can block gutters or damage the property. If this becomes an issue, responsibility for making this right will likely fall to the owner of the tree.
Engaging professional tree maintenance services
You (or indeed someone on your body corporate) might be handy with some secateurs, but it’s better to keep professional obligations professional. Hiring qualified arborists is the only way to be sure that your trees are maintained properly and to a high standard. Arborists have specialised equipment for managing parts of the tree that you may struggle to reach. While you might be able to do half the job, this does not discharge your obligations for maintenance. This is especially true for a large tree. Not only that, but established evidence of proper, professional tree maintenance may be handy in the future if something does go wrong.
Consulting the body corporate manager
If you are uncertain about your responsibilities for maintaining a tree on or near your property, reach out to your body corporate manager for guidance and advice. Additionally, your body corporate manager can inform you about any regulations or by-laws that govern tree maintenance in your specific situation.
Each body corporate may have different rules, and it is important to familiarise yourself with your obligations, and your body corporate’s, across all aspects of property maintenance.
Note that tree maintenance regulations and practices may vary across different states and local councils. It is advisable to familiarise yourself with the specific rules and guidelines applicable to your area. Local government websites and resources can provide further information on tree maintenance regulations, protected species, and any permits or approvals required for tree removal or significant pruning.
What happens if there is a dispute?
People have disagreements about all kinds of things, and trees and other plants are no exception. If neighbours or other people within the body corporate area have a dispute over maintenance, it should go to the body corporate for discussion. These discussions can often become legal, as individuals do have rights enforced by law that body corporate by-laws may seem to negate. For example, one person could claim that their trees are tall in order for them to maintain privacy, but their neighbour could argue that they have a right to natural light. In these cases, if the body corporate cannot resolve the complaint, it will likely need to be settled as a civil case through the courts.
Tree maintenance for a property managed in part by a body corporate is a responsibility that should not be overlooked. By understanding the obligations and taking appropriate action, you can enhance the value and appeal of your property while ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone.