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Roots or branches from Council trees can occasionally cause damage to fences, retaining walls, driveways and vehicles. However, Council’s ownership of the tree does not create an automatic liability in the event of a tree causing damage. There must be some demonstrated act or omission of negligence by Council. 

When making a claim, you will need to provide evidence of damage to your property which may include (but is not limited to):

  • Photographs
  • Plumber report (detailing location of issue and work required)
  • Arborist report
  • Engineer report    
  • Survey reports/diagrams
  • Sewerage diagram
  • Quotation for works or invoice of costs

Evidence must be provided to Council for consideration before undertaking any repair work. Please note that under no circumstances are Council trees are to be pruned or removed by residents. Penalties apply.

Sewer and Stormwater Damage

General maintenance and replacement of sewer and stormwater lines due to ‘wear and tear’ are the responsibility of the landowner. This includes repairing or replacing damaged or aged pipes and clearing chokes.  

If repairs cannot be performed without removing or seriously damaging a Council tree and there are no alternatives (such as relining or moving the pipes or directional boring), you will need to advise Council and consideration will be given to removing the tree. 

For claims relating to damage to sewer and stormwater pipes alleged to have been caused by Council trees, below is a guide as to the documentary evidence required.

  1. Copy of Services Plan – Sewer Main – of the property address, sourced from Sydney Water via dial before you dig or phone 1100 (free service).
  2. If you have access to Google Maps (or similar) - a clear copy of the most recent aerial satellite photo of the property address and surrounding neighbours showing structures and vegetation.
  3. Reports by a licensed plumber and/or other appropriately qualified service provider to include the following information:
  • Business name/details, address of property inspection and methodology used.
  • Pipe type, age and condition, other contributing factors and options to repair the pipe at point of blockage. (Please note: Clearing roots from the pipe is not repair. Maintenance of the pipe system is the resident's responsibility.)
  • Clear and concise plan of the property’s sewer showing the location of all pipe work, direction of flow and the location of the blockage identified on the plan. The map must clearly and accurately identify the layout of the private sewer system and blockage location and the plumber's entry point for the internal inspection. Residents may have to engage the services of a plumber, building designer or surveyor to produce such plans (see note below).
  • Camera footage is required of sewer system showing the blockage(s) and evidence of root ingress. Footage should identify the distance from entry point of inspection to the blockage, which should be referenced to the accompanying property sewer plan. The path of inspection should be clearly marked on the property sewer plan.

Note - details regarding pipe layouts may be obtained from survey plans or building plans. A plumber may be able to map all pipework onto a building plan. Alternatively, Sydney Water may have records of plans submitted as part of a development and infrastructure installations.

Damage to Structures

A structure is anything that has been constructed on private property with appropriate approval or consent of the relevant authority (except fences which are separately dealt with in the ‘Fences or Walls along Property Boundary’ section below). Please keep the following points in mind when making a claim regarding structures:

  • If the claimant has access to Google Maps (or similar) - attach a clear copy of the most recent aerial satellite photo of the property address and surrounding neighbours, clearly showing structures and vegetation.
  • Council does not carry out investigations on private land. In order to demonstrate root interaction, the claimant will need to engage a professional (eg arborist, engineer) to carry out localised excavation on the property at the point of suspected contact between roots and the structure. Any tree roots should be uncovered carefully and left intact with no damage to the outer layer. Claimants should not cut or remove tree roots.
  • Council may consider performing tree works to assist the owner of the property to facilitate repairs to the sewer system/structures without an admission of liability.
  • Caution is to be taken prior to excavating. Dial Before You Dig plans should be sourced online or phone 1100, to assist in locating public underground utilities. Residents should also determine the location of private services, such as water gas/electricity and phone lines, to prevent damage or personal injury. A qualified trade person may be required to safely locate all services.
  • Caution should always be taken when excavating near brick footing walls or fences above 1m high as a full length trench excavation may destabilise the wall/fence.
  • Any information about trees should be measured and recorded, including tree root diameter, direction, type, whether it appears to be alive or dead and distance to/from the tree. 
  • Clear concise photos should show any direct interaction of tree roots to structures at adequate or varying zoom, so as to provide reference to surrounding structures and the property. That is, photos should have reference to direction and scale by including background structures or using objects of generally known size as a comparison point, eg sunglasses.
  • Relevant independent professional reports are required to support any claims alleging structural damage and the following information, as a minimum, is to be included along with all relevant business details. 
    • Business name and details, address of property inspection and methodology used.
    • Engineer's reports should detail the structure’s integrity and standard of construction (including footings) and provide evidence to support any claims made regarding damage alleged to have been caused by Council trees.
    • Identify all contributing factors including but not limited to: reactive soils, mine subsidence, age of the structure, earthquake, storm, or flood damage.
    • Demonstrate that any tree roots are directly interacting with the structure and that the surrounding material is creating pressure between the roots and the structure.

Driveways - Crossover on Public Land

To show root interaction, you will need Council approval to remove the section of the driveway crossover on Council land and arrange for Council's arborist to inspect the site by contacting Tree Services on 1300 434 434 or completing of the Driveway Crossing Inspection form.

Evidence required includes the driveway's construction, methods and materials used to confirm that it met appropriate standards and that Council approval was obtained at the time of construction.

Fences or Walls along Property Boundary

To inspect damage to fences or walls, you will need to arrange a localised excavation with hand tools on the private property side of the boundary fence/wall at the point of suspected interaction between tree roots and the fence/wall. It is recommended you give Council's Tree Services team at least five business days’ notice of such excavation as they will need to inspect the site once the excavation has taken place (please phone 1300 434 434). To facilitate inspection, any tree roots should be uncovered carefully and left intact with no damage to the outer layer. At no stage should residents cut or remove tree roots.

To minimise risk, any excavation undertaken for the purpose of inspection should be kept to the immediate area of suspected interaction. If in doubt, contact a suitably qualified trade person or service provider to carry out the works.

Caution should be taken prior to excavating. It is recommended that Dial before you Dig are sourced or phone 1100, to assist in locating public underground utilities. Residents should also determine the location of private services, such as water gas/electricity and phone lines, to prevent damage or personal injury. A qualified trade person may be required to safely locate all services.

Additionally, caution should always be taken when excavating near brick footing walls or fences above 1m high as a full length trench excavation may destabilise the wall/fence.