Homeowners love their own trees, but strangely enough, they don’t always love their neighbour’s trees in the same way. Unfortunately, trees have no idea which side of the fence they are planted on, and nor do they have any concept of boundaries. They just keep growing and growing, albeit slowly, until someone puts a stop to them or cuts them back. But figuring out who is responsible for shared trees always seems to be a thorny issue amongst neighbours.
Who owns the trees on your property?
The first thing you need to know is that trees planted on the boundary belong to both properties equally, and you and your neighbour need to work together when it comes to looking after these trees. This means that you are both responsible for pruning the trees and you have to agree before either one of you can trim or remove a tree. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If the tree is likely to cause damage to your property or poses a risk to your safety, then you may act without first seeking your neighbour’s permission. But once again, you need to be careful because you may only do what is necessary to solve the problem. This means that if the problem is only one branch, you can’t remove the entire tree. If you want to prune or cut back a shared tree for aesthetic reasons, you need to get permission from your neighbour, and it is usually best to get a professional tree pruning service to do any work.
There may also be trees around your property that do not belong to either you or your neighbours. Trees that you think maybe yours could, in fact, belong to the municipality. If you have any doubts about the ownership of the trees on your property find out who they belong to before you do anything. It is illegal to cut down or trim municipal trees. In some areas, you may not even cut down trees on your own property without permission from your municipality. As a property owner, you need to be aware of the by-laws that protect trees in your area.
What steps can you take regarding boundary trees?
If your neighbour removes a boundary tree without your permission you can demand compensation through means of a small claim. But this is an extreme step and in most cases, the damages are not worth the time, effort and expense of a lawsuit. This really is a last resort and remember, once all is said and done, you still have to live next door to your neighbour. You and your neighbours really need to find a way to work together to look after boundary trees or they could become the bane of your life.
If your neighbour’s tree has branches that overhang your property and you want them cut back you can ask your neighbour to do this. If your neighbour refuses, you can point out that if the offending branches cause damage to your property or injury you, your neighbour is legally responsible. This usually works. If your neighbour still refuses to do anything about the tree then you have the right to cut the branches back yourself. But you can only cut the part of the branch that hangs over your property, and you have to do it from your side of the fence. You cannot go onto your neighbour’s property to prune their trees.
The same rules apply to roots. If the roots of your neighbour’s tree are invading your property, you have the right to cut them back. But once again you can only cut out the roots that are actually on your property. You may also not cut the roots in such a way that you kill the tree or make it unstable. If your neighbour refuses to do anything about the tree roots, they may be legally responsible for any damages.
Pruning of boundary or shared trees can be a tricky business and, for the sake of peace between you and your neighbours, it is best to use a professional tree pruning service, like Martin’s Tree Service, to do the work.