Published: Mon, Dec 1st, 2014
In a perfect world, you and your neighbour should be able to resolve any problem by discussing it together. The law is careful to balance one person’s right to enjoy their land with a neighbour’s right to be protected from interference.
If your neighbour’s domestic animal comes onto your property without your consent, this is trespass and you have certain rights to remove the animal or have it removed. Interference with a neighbour’s right to enjoy their land can amount to legal nuisance, if it is unreasonable and substantial. In most circumstances, the owner of the animal is liable for the damage it caused while trespassing. Most local councils have bylaws that place rules and requirements on owners for keeping domestic animals in towns and cities.
Dogs - the Dog Control Act 1996 sets out the legal obligations on dog ownership, including their care, control and the owner’s responsibilities for damage caused by their dog. Dogs must be under the direct control of their owners at all times. For example, if a dog digs up a neighbour’s plant, the neighbour can make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal if the dog’s owner does not agree to pay for the damage.
If a dog is causing a nuisance by persistently barking or howling, a complaint can be made to the Dog Control section of your local council. A dog control officer can give the dog owner a written notice requiring them to stop the nuisance, and if necessary, remove the dog from the property.
If you see a dog attacking a person or any stock, poultry, domestic animal or protected wildlife, you have a right to seize or destroy the dog in order to stop the attack. If the dog is seized, it must be handed to a dog control officer or the police who will either impound the dog or have it destroyed.
Cats - unlike dogs, cats are not closely regulated, and are allowed to trespass. The cat’s owner is not usually liable for any damage made by their cat.
Stock - stock owners are liable for any damage caused by their stock wandering onto the road if the owners have not taken sufficient care to prevent this from occurring. If stock trespass onto someone else’s land, the occupier of the land may impound the stock and seek damages under the Impounding Act 1955.
Noise & smell - if your neighbours, or their animals, are making excessive or unreasonable noise, a complaint can be made to the local council. An enforcement officer will usually investigate the complaint and decide what action should be taken under the Resource Management Act 1991. This will usually be either an excessive noise direction for a short-term problem (e.g. noise from a stereo) or an indefinite Abatement Notice for an ongoing problem (e.g. noise from a factory).
An application can also be made to the Environment Court for an Enforcement Order to stop an activity that is causing excessive or unreasonable noise.
The gathering of rubbish or unpleasant smells may amount to nuisance under the Health Act 1956 and be dealt with by way of enforcement orders or abatement orders as well.
Neighbourhood disputes are ideally suited to mediation and your lawyer can suggest a suitable mediator, if required.