Love thy neighbour

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Common issues and your rights when it comes to your neighbours

Love thy neighbour may be the Golden Rule, but it can be a difficult one to follow if relationships become strained.  There are a number of ways that difficulties can arise between neighbours, so it pays to have a general awareness of what the law says on some of the more common issues.  Some of these are often misunderstood.


The main law that applies is the Fencing Act 1978.  In general, and provided the right process is followed, the cost of building or repairing a boundary fence is shared by the owners on either side of it.  If you do not follow that process properly, you might have to pay for the full cost yourself.

If your neighbour sends you a notice for fencing work and you think it is excessive or unnecessary, or should be in a different place than proposed, you can object to it as long as you follow the correct process.  If you do not get that right, you may end up having to pay thousands for a fence you may not want or need.

Retaining Walls

The law says that you owe your neighbour’s natural land a “right of support”.  What this means is you can’t dig away part of your property and cause theirs to collapse – you have to do something to make sure their property is not affected, like build a retaining wall.

This obligation only applies to the natural land – if the neighbour builds something heavy or piles dirt up to level off their property, that might not be the natural land.  The position in that case should be a shared cost, sensibly agreed.

Often, a retaining wall can be combined with a fence.  So then the question becomes how much of the building work is retaining wall, how much is fencing and who pays for what.  If a dispute arises over a retaining wall, it pays to get advice early. You lawyer advise on your specific situation so that you can go into any negotiations confident in where you stand legally, and be supported through the negotiation process, or to engage the courts if needed to assert your rights.


Nuisance isn’t just a fly buzzing around your head – it’s a formal legal obligation which neighbours have to avoid.  It is obvious to most people that going onto someone else’s property without consent is trespass.  But there are many other ways a neighbour can interfere with your property that do not involve them physically stepping on your property – noise, smoke, smells, vibrations, water runoff and sounds are just some of them which may be a legal “nuisance”.

The question is different in each situation and depends on how bad, how often, when it happens, whether you have asked the neighbour to stop and a number of other factors.

There are other legal avenues here too.  You could consider involving the local council, or consider Resource Management Act 1991 or the Health Act 1956 depending on the type of activity.  It is a complex topic, and no answer is ever the same.

Have an issue with your neighbour?

Call us early and explain the situation in as much detail as you can manage.  We will be happy to set out how we think the law applies to your situation and how best to get your desired result.  Ideally we would have that discussion at an early stage to avoid escalation.

If things become heated or difficult, or even if you just do not have the time to worry about it, we will happily step in to take that worry off your shoulders.  Our specialist disputes resolution team regularly deal with these matters and can quickly assess your situation to give you advice about how to get to where you want to be. You can view our team here.

WRMK Lawyers takes all reasonable care to make sure that the information in this article is up-to-date and accurate at today’s date. It is necessarily general information and not intended as legal advice to be relied upon.

Our thanks to Pablo Hamber for writing this article.