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Case Round Up

Ryan V Slowinski [2014] QCAT 20

By Helena Mumford on the 10th Nov 2014

Tree fallen over causing damage to neighbouring property – who is the relevant ‘tree-keeper’ when that property was in process of being sold?

This case summary will provide a discussion of a recent civil dispute matter in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (The Tribunal). The Tribunal in Ryan v Slowinski [2014] QCAT 20 had to make orders deciding whether the seller or the purchaser of the property was liable to remove the tree and cover the costs of compensation in relation to damage caused by the tree to neighbouring property.

A tree allegedly stood on the property that was under contract for sale. Mr Ryan lived next door and made submissions to the Tribunal that this particular tree had gradually become more of a nuisance to him but he had never raised the issue with Ms Slowinski, the property owner at the time. The tree then fell on Mr Ryan’s driveway causing damage. Mr Ryan made a claim to the Tribunal seeking removal of the tree and compensation.

At the time the tree fell, Mr Ryan alleged that Ms Slowinski was the current owner. Ms Slowinski disputed the application on the grounds that at the time the claim was brought, the property was under contract for sale. The Tribunal had to decide who the relevant ‘tree-keeper’ was for the purpose of removing the tree and covering compensatory costs to the aggrieved.

The Tribunal based their decision on the definition of ‘tree-keeper’ under the Neighbourhood Disputes (Dividing Fences and Trees) Act 2011 (Qld). Under s.48 of this Act, a tree keeper is the registered owner of land in which the tree is situated. At the time the tree fell, Ms Slowinski was found to be the relevant tree-keeper as she was the registered owner of the property at that time. However, further issues arose in enforcing an order to make Ms Slowinski remove the tree given that she was no longer the registered owner of the property.

The Tribunal found that the best way for Mr Ryan to have his application met was to allow him further time to file an application to join the new owners of the land in his claim. If Mr Ryan failed to do so in the time frame provided, the Tribunal would then strike out the application with regard to the tree.

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