Neighbourhood disputes

People often get very upset about problems with their neighbours and it is easy to understand why. There is a lot at stake because conflict with a neighbour can make people feel uncomfortable or even unsafe in their own home.

Some neighbourhood conflict happens because people see their home and their neighbourhood in different ways. For example, neighbours living next door to one another might have problems if one wants peace and quiet and the other wants a workshop or a place to party.

Some of the things people want from a home and neighbourhood might be:

  • A base to return to at the end of each day
  • Somewhere to be with family and friends, to hang out and have fun
  • A retreat or a sanctuary that is quiet and peaceful
  • A workshop, a place to do hobbies or to create or fix things
  • A workplace, building a business and working from home
  • A home in a beautiful street with other nice houses and neat gardens

Disputes also occur sometimes when people have to share space with their neighbours. For example, disagreements can occur over changes to boundaries such as fences or trees and shrubs, or over use of driveways or common areas.

Some of the most common neighbourhood disputes are about:

  • Fences
  • Trees/shrubs/plants
  • Noise
  • Lifestyle/environmental issues
  • Children or teenager's behaviour
  • Dogs and other animals
  • Invasion of privacy

But these challenges can be overcome if everyone is genuinely willing to try and if people feel safe to agree and disagree with each other. Disputes can often be resolved when people can focus on the problem and not the person and work together to find solutions that everyone can live with.

When disputes are not resolved, it is often because one or more of the following things is going on:

  • Inability to communicate
  • Constant complaints or refusal/failure to act on complaints
  • Agreement Breakdown
  • Verbal abuse/swearing
  • Threats of violence
  • Lack of trust
  • Bullying
  • Theft/damage or assault
  • Gossip and rumours

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Preventing and managing neighbourhood disputes

The good news is that there are ways of preventing or managing neighbourhood disputes that are simple and easy to use. It may not always be possible to resolve every dispute, but every dispute can be managed.

No matter how healthy your neighbourhood is, problems can arise quite suddenly. If disputes are not dealt with, they can grow out of all proportion. So here are some suggestions for preventing and managing neighbourhood disputes.

  • Get to know your neighbour
  • Consult with your neighbour before you take any action that may impact on them.
  • Take your neighbour’s concern’s seriously, even if they seem small issues to you.
  • When people feel heard and understood it is easier to work through a problem.
  • Don't assume the other person knows there is a problem – often they don't.
  • Sometimes it is a simple misunderstanding.
  • Discuss your approach with friends or family. They may have some useful ideas.
  • Make an attempt to talk or write to your neighbour before involving authorities or other agencies.
  • Remember to focus on the problem not the person.
  • Work on what you can change, not what you can't.
  • If you and your neighbour cannot agree on a change, try implementing some strategies to reduce stress.
  • Ask for help, seek advice.

Contact the Conflict Resolution Service for impartial, specialist assistance in the prevention and management of your dispute.

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Getting to know your neighbour

These days most people don’t have time to spend getting to know their neighbours and many people would rather just keep to themselves and be left alone. But the best way to deal with neighbourhood conflict is to talk with your neighbour face to face.

By the time there is a conflict, many people feel like it is too late to get to know their neighbour. In fact it’s never really too late. Even if you know there is a conflict, you can still take the time to meet your neighbour and show that you are willing to talk with them about any problems.

There’s no need to be best friends with your neighbours, but it is worth getting to know them enough to say hi and make sure that you all feel ok to talk to each other if you need to.

Here are some handy hints to help you make that first contact with a neighbour:

  • Make some time during the day, such as on a weekend, when you can feel safe and when you have time to talk.
  • Take someone with you. If you live alone, ask a friend to come along.
  • Knock on a neighbour’s front door.
  • Remember that they will probably be nervous too, and might be wondering what you want. Start by introducing yourself and letting them know you are just taking time to say hi.
  • Ask if now is a good time or would it be better for them if you came back some other time.
  • Don't ask to go inside but do decide ahead of time what to say if they invite you in (feel free to say not right now thank you but maybe another time).
  • Have a couple of things to say to break the ice and some easy questions to ask. You could tell them how long you have lived next door and ask how long they have been living in the street. You could ask if they know any of the other neighbours or if they knew the people who lived in your house before you moved in.
  • Make the first visit short and simple and finish by inviting them to knock on your door or come over if they see you in the front of your house if they want. You might want to suggest that a particular time is a good time to catch you or suggest they leave a note in your letterbox if you are not home much.
  • If they raise a particular issue, give them time to tell you what they want to say but don’t feel you need to deal with it right then. Suggest that you get together to talk about it in a few days and make arrangements for when and where. You could agree to visit them again or invite them to visit you, or even agree to meet somewhere on neutral ground like a local coffee shop (depending on what is most comfortable for you and for them).
  • Think about leaving a card or piece of paper with your name and address on it for them, to help them remember who you are and as a reminder of your visit.

If your neighbour never seems to be home when you try to visit them, you can keep an eye out and wave if you see them in their front yard. Don’t expect to have the conversation then – it might not be a good time for them, particularly if they are on their way home from a bad day or on their way out and running late. Ask them when would be a good time to knock on their door later on.

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Information about common neighbourhood issues

It is always useful to know where you stand and what your rights and responsibilities are as a neighbour. Below are some common issues and sources of information and advice.

Animal nuisance

An animal nuisance exists if an animal causes:

  • Damage to property owned by a person other than the keeper
  • Excessive noise, or
  • Danger to the health of an animal or a person other than the keeper

For more information contact:
Domestic Animal Services

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Fences and structures, construction

For information on construction and obligations contact:
ACT Environment and Planning Directorate
For information on residential fences:

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Home business

For more information or if you have concerns about the impact of a home business contact:
ACT Environment and Planning Directorate

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Long grass, dirty blocks

ACT Environment and Planning Directorate

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Air and water

There is a total ban on the burning of garden and other waste in urban areas. Indoor fires, including slow combustion stoves, must be managed to minimise smoke emissions. Discharge of any waste into the stormwater system is an offence.

For information contact ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services:

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Anti-social behaviour

Acts or threats involving violence, malicious property damage or theft and dangerous or noisy operation of motor vehicles should be reported to the ACT Police

For more information contact:

ACT Police

For routine enquiries contact your local police station or ring the police switchboard: 6256 7777
For police to attend: 131 444
For life-threatening emergencies only: 000

If you are concerned about acts or threats of violence, one option is to apply for a protection order from a court. However, another option is to consider mediation.

Mediations have been held at Police Stations to address safety concerns.

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Unregistered cars, off-street and unsafe parking

Road User Services:

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Legal advice

Legal Aid ACT

Legal Aid ACT offers free services to people dealing with neighbourhood disputes:

  • Free telephone advice 8.30am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday on 1300 654 314
  • Free half-hour appointments available in Civic.

Duty lawyers at the Magistrates Court for help with your situation, including applications for Protection Orders.

For more information see the Legal Aid ACT website

Canberra Community Law

Provides free legal advice and assistance for low income earners.

Small Claims – Magistrates Court

An application can be made to the Small Claims Court to recover the cost of:

  • Damages caused by someone else’s actions
  • Nuisance (interference with your land, or your enjoyment of your land – for example an overflow from a neighbour’s burst sewerage pipe onto your land).
  • Trespass (unauthorised, uninvited entry onto, or remaining on you land).

Fees apply. Telephone: 6127 4272

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Other sources of help and advice

Canberra Connect

Gateway to ACT Government information and services


ACT Ombudsman

The ACT Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the actions or decisions of any ACT Government agency.


Mental Health Crisis Team

For advice and crisis service for people with mental illness or dysfunction.


ACT Health, Health Protection Service

Investigates complaints regarding public health hazards and disease risks.


Human Rights Commission

Investigates and conciliates complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment and racial vilification.


Victim Support ACT

Victim Support ACT is a service that can help victims of crime to cope with the crime, and to help them to access their rights and entitlements.


24 hour enquiries & Emergencies line Electricity: 13 10 93
  Natural Gas: 13 19 09
Water, sewerage and stormwater: 13 11 93
Hot water repairs and replacement: 13 14 93


Translating and Interpreter Service

For language assistance: 131 450

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