We understand that disputes with your neighbours can arise over the smallest of disagreements. Usually, both parties begin with the best of intentions but the situation can often turn bad, fast. Whether a dispute is about trees, dividing fences, noise, animals, smells or otherwise, we know just how important it is to settle neighbourhood disputes quickly and with minimal disruption.
Knowing what to do when legal problems arise with a neighbour is crucial. Generally, there are three stages to resolving neighbourhood disputes, being informal means (i.e. having an open conversation with your neighbour to try to resolve the issue), followed by mediation, and if worst does come to worst, resorting to formal dispute resolution such as seeking a court order or pressing criminal charges in local court proceedings.
We also understand that sometimes, things take a more serious turn for the worst. Innocent neighbourhood disputes can turn into serious criminal matters such as harassment, stalking or intimidation. In these situations, emotions run high and domestic relationships are strained and one can experience fear in their own neighbourhood. In such circumstances, it may be worth considering whether an apprehended personal violence order (APVO) or intervention order is required.
What is the difference between a Neighbour Dispute and an AVO?
A neighbour dispute is generally a civil dispute over some environmental factor such as noise, trees, dividing fences or animals. In New South Wales, these disputes are generally dealt with via mediation or alternative dispute resolution. At worst, the intervention of a Court or Tribunal is required to determine the outcome of the dispute. Only if a Court order is not complied with is there a chance that a neighbour dispute could become a criminal matter.
On the other hand, an AVO is a criminal law matter. AVO’s in NSW are divided into two categories:
- Apprehended domestic violence orders (ADVO); and
- Apprehended personal violence orders (APVO).
An apprehended violence order (AVO), whether an ADVO or APVO, is an order made by a Court on application by a person, which is designed to prohibit or restrict the activities of another person in order to reduce the risk of violence or unwanted harassment. As a Court order, an AVO is enforceable by a Court (usually, the Local Court or the Family Court), a breach of which is a criminal offence.
While an AVO itself does not go on a person’s criminal record, any act contravening an AVO that is in place, will, as a breach of an AVO is a criminal offence. It is therefore critical to ensure you obtain sound legal advice in any AVO matter in order to protect your rights whether as a defendant or applicant in criminal proceedings relating to an AVO.
If a neighbour is harassing or intimidating you, you may be entitled to seek an APVO against them.
What does an AVO do?
An AVO prohibits or restricts the behaviour of a person to the extent that those prohibitions and/or restrictions are “necessary or desirable” to the Court, aiming to ensure the safety and protection of the protected person from any act of domestic violence, family violence or personal violence. In NSW, section 35 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW) allows an AVO to impose any or all of the following conditions:
- prohibiting or restricting approaches by the defendant to the protected person;
- prohibiting or restricting access by the defendant to any or all of the following:
- to any premises occupied by the protected person;
- to any place where the protected person works;
- to any place frequented by the protected person.
- prohibiting or restricting the defendant from approaching the protected person, or any premises/place, within 12 hours of consuming alcohol or drugs;
- prohibiting or restricting the defendant from locating or attempting to locate the protected person;
- prohibiting or restricting the defendant from interfering with the protected person’s property; or
- prohibiting or restricting specified behaviour by the defendant that might affect the protected person.
In addition, section 36 of the Act means that all AVO’s prohibit the following:
- assaulting or threatening the protected person (or a person with whom the protected person has a domestic relationship);
- stalking, harassing or intimidating the protected person (or a person with whom the protected person has a domestic relationship; and
- intentionally or recklessly destroying any property, including animals, that belong to the protected person (or a person with whom the protected person has a domestic relationship).
What are the consequences of an AVO breach?
The consequences for breaching an AVO will depend on a number of things, including the nature of the breach, whether the breach was an act of violence against a protected person, and the criminal record of the defendant.
Under section 14 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW), a person who knowingly breaches a prohibition or restriction specified in an AVO is guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years imprisonment, 50 penalty units (which amounts to a fine of $5,500), or both.
Alternatively, a Court may make one of a number of Court orders in lieu of imprisonment or a fine. A Court may impose some form of Community Correction Order (CCO) or Conditional Release Order (CRO) which allows the defendant to avoid a term of imprisonment on the proviso that they comply with the terms of the alternative Court order. This will generally mean that any subsequent breach will be treated more seriously than the first breach – in these circumstances, it will be more difficult to avoid a term of imprisonment.
What to do about intimidating Neighbours?
As noted above, if you are experiencing intimidation or harassment by a neighbour, you are able to apply for an apprehended personal violence order (APVO). If you are able to successfully seek an APVO, any subsequent breach of that order may render your neighbour guilty of a criminal offence.
How do I take legal action against my neighbours?
Depending on the circumstances, it is usually recommended that you attempt to resolve any neighbour dispute or AVO matter with your neighbour in a friendly manner. Failing this, it may be necessary to seek legal advice from solicitors about the options available to you. In most States, including NSW, Victoria and Queensland, there are options available to you such as Legal Aid or LawAccess or contacting your local council (in the case of neighbour disputes), a local legal centre or a community justice centre.
Alternatively, our expert civil and criminal lawyers are able to provide you with a free consultation today, to discuss whether you may be entitled to take legal action against your neighbour. We can provide step by step assistance to help you get the best outcome available.