New Zealand property owners take neighbour to court over trees blocking Wi-Fi

A High Court judge has ruled a property owner may have to trim their trees to improve their neighbours' Wi-Fi access - but a commentator suspects an underlying motive in the case. 

Kaipara Flats owners Ian and Karen Vickery took their neighbour Christine Thoroughgood to court in August over two disputes they had in regards to trees they wanted trimmed along the two properties' boundary line. 

The Vickerys' first argument was that the untrimmed trees caused undue obstruction to their view. The property owners also noted that the trees caused undue interference with their wireless broadband network. 

After considering the evidence, Justice Sally Fitzgerald said in her ruling that the Vickerys - who were trying to overturn a District Court decision - did not have a strong enough case with their dispute about Wi-Fi interference. 

However, she did accept that "undue interference with a Wi-Fi signal caused by trees could constitute an undue interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of an applicant's land for the purposes of s 335(1)(vi) of the [Property Law] Act."

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church says it is difficult to determine who is in the right in these cases, telling The AM Show on Wednesday it really comes down to the judge's view on the matter. 

"In this particular case, if you read between the lines, there were two causes being cited: one of them was around enjoyment of view and the other was around the signal for Wi-Fi. I suspect if you look at this, the first one was probably the real issue," he said. 

Fixed wireless broadband is a necessity for many, and it requires a line-of-sight. Telecommunications providers such as Spark have been pushing the technology for those not in reach of fibre connectivity or as a cheaper alternative. 

But the idea that a property owner can be forced you to trim their trees if they are interfering with Wi-Fi connectivity will be full of "subjectivity," says Mr Church. 

He said it would be difficult to determine what actually "constitutes an unreasonable impeding enjoyment of land versus the private property rights of the owner."

"I would argue, in most of these cases, to go and talk to your neighbour because if you can get mutual agreement that is by far the best outcome," he said. 

"It can be done the quickest, and it is not going to cost you too much money."