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Difficult People: Problems With a Neighbours’ Tree


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Difficult People: Problems With a Neighbours’ Tree

What do I do about problems with a neighbour tree?

In the close quarters of many Toronto neighbourhoods, along with larger spaces in the city and in GTA suburbs, neighbourly disputes are common. Everything from garbage bins to lawn maintenance to loud music can be a thing to argue about, and problems with a neighbour tree are no exception.

Perhaps you’re thinking of cutting your neighbours’ overhanging tree, or there are overgrown branches blocking sunlight. Maybe your neighbours’ tree is damaging your fence or roof, or their roots are creeping under your fence. Sometimes, it is a bigger issue like worrying your neighbours tree will fall on your home. How can you handle it?

The first thing to know is that you do have the right to prune parts of a tree growing on or overhanging your own property, as long as it will not damage or kill the tree to do so. However, the City of Toronto recommends that, prior to conducting any work on trees that share space, you discuss the issue with your neighbour first.

Who is responsible for a neighbour tree?

Your first question should really be whose tree is it? Do you know where the correct property line lies? Many fences or commonly acknowledged property lines differ from the actual property line.

What is a boundary tree?

Trees with trunks across a property line are considered “boundary trees”, meaning you and your neighbour are considered joint owners of the tree.

Neighbour tree branches over the roof of house in toronto

With issues where the tree poses a danger to your home or property, it gets more complicated. Small trees where the branches or limbs are only causing minor issues or damage are easy to address.

What about branches overhanging my property?

A branch or limb crossing the property line can be trimmed back to the property line, at minimum. With permission from your neighbour, you can trim the tree back to an appropriate place, which is usually a better option than cutting a branch off in the middle. This is an overlapping area of law – you’re entitled to trim your neighbour tree when it comes into your airspace, but under city bylaw you aren’t allow to injure the tree without a permit from the city.

What if the tree is growing across multiple properties?

Larger trees that straddle multiple properties are much more complicated to deal with and may have significant grey area with regards to the law, liability and ultimate ownership or responsibility should something go wrong or the tree needs to be removed.

Home and property owners in Toronto are required to maintain their trees to reasonable safety standards. If you feel a neighbour’s tree poses a hazard to you or your property, first reach out to your neighbour to see if the issue can be resolved amicably.

My Neighbours’ Trees Blocking Sunlight

If your neighbour’s trees are blocking sunlight, whether it’s a view from your windows or a shady back deck, this will typically be a tree trimming job you’re responsible for footing the bill for. When your neighbors’ trees are blocking garden light, the problem can be particularly annoying for avid gardeners.

What to do about a neighbour tree shading your garden

Your neighbour is under no obligation to prune or trim their tree for you. If leafy branches over your yard don’t let enough sunlight through to your flower garden or your view is blocked by a tree you don’t like, you’ll have to speak to your neighbour.

They may be open to trimming their trees or even sharing the cost, particularly if the tree needs other pruning. If they aren’t interested in having their tree pruned, however, you’ll have to respect their wishes and the property line.

What should I do if my Neighbours’ Tree is Damaging my Property?

Neighbour tree branches blocking sunlight in backyard toronto
tree branches sunlight backyard

If your neighbour’s tree is causing damage or is a hazard, your neighbour has an obligation to deal with the problem. This includes broken branches, dying branches, and dying or dead trees. Home and property owners are responsible for maintaining their properties to a reasonable degree of safety, and when they fail to do so, they can face fines under municipal by-laws and be compelled to remedy the issue.

If your neighbour’s tree has caused damage or fallen on your property, you should contact your neighbour and document the damage for insurance purposes. If you believe the tree to still be unsafe, or there is a hazard that needs to be removed, follow up by calling an arborist for a consultation.

If your neighbour refuses to act to remove the hazard on their property, you may want to call 311 to have a municipal by-law officer assess the situation. It is important to stay calm, document the steps you’ve taken to address the issue, and any costs incurred by you for insurance purposes.

Cutting Neighbour Tree Roots

Tree roots are one of the toughest problems, as cutting a tree root can compromise the health and structural integrity of the tree. If the root issue is minor in nature, such as a root growing under a fence, near the side of a yard, or in another outdoor location, it may be best to leave the root. You do have the right to remove some roots growing onto your property, but unlike with pruning, this is far more likely to cause serious problems, as root removal can cause significant damage to the tree. Not only can removing roots harm the tree’s health, it can make trees unstable and more likely to fall over, raising big liability and safety issues.

With a bigger root problem, such as roots growing into your plumbing or foundation underground, you’ll want to have an arborist assess the issue. Your arborist can assess the roots using a tool called an Air Spade and create a plan to address the problem. If the roots are from a tree that is not your own, involving the owner of the tree is an important first step to ensure a smooth resolution to the problem.

Who can help with problems with a neighbour’s tree?

Neighbour disputes over trees can get heated. Often, it’s best to involve a professional who can remain objective. An arborist can identify the source of the problem and suggest different solutions that balance the rights and interests of both affected parties.

Arborists are also trained to ensure damage doesn’t happen to the tree or property near it, and reputable companies will carry liability insurance to cover the work they undertake. The last thing you want in a dispute with a neighbour about a tree is to cause damage to your property or theirs trying to resolve the issue. For this reason, it makes sense to have an arborist do the work and ensure the work is done correctly without damage to the tree or either property.

When you’re in the early stages of assessing a potential neighbour tree problem and you’re not getting a response from the neighbour, you might also consider getting an arborist assessment to determine if the tree is actually a hazard.

How to Resolve a Tree Issue with Your Neighbour

First, be proactive! Talking to them directly is the most straightforward option, but if you don’t have a good relationship, it’s always advisable to have something in writing. The neighbour needs to be informed about the problem and given an opportunity to fix it.

When a tree needs pruning, you may be able to come to a mutual agreement and share costs. For boundary trees in Ontario, any pruning or removal needs to be agreed upon by both of you.

Do you and your neighbours need tree maintenance to keep your yards and your relationship healthy? Contact Vista Tree Management today for a free quote!

author avatar
Michael Co-Founder
Michael is a Certified Arborist and founder of the company. He holds a Certificate in Urban Arboriculture (Honours) from Humber College, Certificate in Project Leadership from Cornell, has post-graduate studies in Urban Forestry and Arboriculture from Oregon State College of Foresty and holds a BAH in Ancient History with a minor in Business. In addition to being an ISA Certified Arborist, he is a TCIA Certified Tree Safety Professional, Tree Appraisal Qualified by Arboriculture Canada and holds a Landscape Exterminator license. Michael sat on the Board of Director for the Ontario Commercial Arborist Association in 2022 and 2023. He worked at some of the top arboriculture companies in Southern Ontario before starting Vista Tree Management. Before that, he was an award-winning Executive Director in the nonprofit sector and published marketing consultant. On the rare days off, Michael can be found at home with his family - a loving wife, two daughters and two cats in Central Toronto.
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14 thoughts on “Difficult People: Problems With a Neighbours’ Tree”

  1. My neighbor expects me to pay for the limbs hanging over my house that would cause considerable damage to my roof.
    The tree is on their property but is telling me that it is my tree as well…My limbs
    I expressed that it is not my responsibility.
    I have contacted an arborist and he told me that it is their responsibility.
    I believe they will only take down the limbs hanging over their house and leave the rest for me to deal with.
    He plans to do it himself with rented equipment.

    Reply
    • The arborist you spoke with is likely correct. I am unsure where you’re located – if it is the GTA then that is easier as we are located here. It is difficult to oblige tree owners to do anything short of an obvious hazard or obstruction, for which in Toronto you can complain about to 311 to request a compliance order. He is not obligated to cut the tree for anything other than legitimate safety reasons, I.e. while an individual may fear a tree falling on their house, a Certified arborist may declare it unlikely or safe. It is a complex area, involving insurance, civil law and neighbour relations. In our area of work, while an owner may be obliged by the city or others to prune a tree over the property line due to hazard, the threshold for declaring a hazard is quite high which can mean that, practically, your airspace is your concern. Conversely, this also allows you to properly (I.e. certified arborist) prune trees in the airspace of your property without consulting the owner of the tree, but only to the property line. There are a lot of nuances, if you’re in the Toronto area we can give you a free quotes if you’re outside of it, I would get another opinion from a company either affiliated or members of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), The Ontario Commercial Arborists Assocation (OntarioOCAA.com)or the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) in the states – depending on where you live.

      None of this post is legal advice!

      Reply
  2. The recent high winds broke a limb of my tree and it fell in my backyard. The limb is rather small, 1.5″ in diameter. The property is in Scarborough, ON. The tree is pruned by proffesionals this spring, few months ago.
    Now my tenants claim thet the tree is unsafe and their usage of backyard is restricted, unless more cutting is done.
    I beleive this is unreasonable demand. What is your opinion?

    Reply
    • Hi Dar,

      It is impossible to know without seeing the tree. A 1.5 inch branch is very small, though still can cause injury. You can ask a couple companies for a quote on mitigating any dangerous aspects of the tree, and talk to the arborists on site to get an idea of whether or not the request is invalid. Not every arborist will take the time to speak with you – some may only provide token acknowledgement and a price or refusal. If the company you had previously was reputable, I’d give them a call and ask the same question.

      Reply
    • Hi D,

      If you are in Toronto and the tree is on the property line, it is likely a shared tree. Your fence may also be considered to be shared. The definition of neighbour or shared tree varies by jurisdiction, and relates to the percentage of the canopy, central roots, or trunk that are over the property line. In many jurisdictions, you are empowered to trim branches that enter the property line when employing certified arborists. There are often better solutions to cutting off a branch of a tree, such as cutting a hole around a branch in the fence to allow it space rather than having it push on the fence. The options and solutions are something that depends on the location and situation. Laws and bylaws around trees with regards to neighbours are complex. It would be best to request an assessment from a certified arborist in your area to get an idea of the options you may have. They may be more limited that you’d imagine, particularly with compelling your neighbour to pay for a service or compensate you – only a lawyer could speak properly to that.

      Reply
  3. Neighbour cut down his tree leaving a large stump. The large roots of the tree have spread to our property. The roots are now creating a problem as that is where to plan to put our driveway. Roots need to be removed before driveway can be started. Who is responsible for the cost of removing the roots?

    Reply
    • Hi Jim, if the tree is no longer growing the roots or portion of roots remaining on your property are your responsibility. However, you can remove them without concern of causing damage to the tree since it is no longer there. Depending on the size of the roots they can be dug out, or an arborist may be able to assist with stump grinding.

      Reply
  4. I live in Toronto and a tree on my neighbour’s property has branches that obstruct the shared walkway between our houses (the only way to access our backyards for both of us). They won’t trim it or allow us to trim it. Do you have experience with easement laws, and would that give us the right to trim branches that block the shared walkway?

    Reply
  5. My neighbor just went past our original fence that has been there for about 30 years.
    She’s contacted the front fence to go out over 20 feet, obstructing our view as it is over 6 feet, we never agreed and they dug into the roots of our blue spruce quite aggressively.

    I feel there will be damage, after reading the reviews of the company she hired, And we may end up with issues that cost us money.

    This front fence was never discussed
    Cutting into our roots was never discussed
    No survey
    No permit
    No discussion
    No permission given

    What do I do in Petrolia?

    Reply
  6. I have a neighbors 4 cedar shrubs overhanging my lawn, they have a turpentine residue when it rains that kills my lawn, even new dirt a seed will not revive the area, they need trimming back away from dripping on the lawn.

    Reply
  7. Hi there, my neighbour has planted what looks to be either a silver/sugar maple tree on his property, right against our shared fence. It’s a sapling and no more than 4 feet tall right now, so no immediate issues or hazards right now. However, it’s 9 feet away from my foundation. As this tree matures, is it likely to cause damage to my foundation? Note: I am unfortunately not on speaking terms with my neighbour.

    Reply
    • Hi Rebecca,

      Tree roots themselves are not physically strong enough to crack a foundation, rather, they take advantage of pre-existing issues and damage. If your foundation and water seal are in good condition, the tree will not be able to penetrate anything and won’t be motivated to either. Trees require oxygen, water and nutrients. Foundations don’t provide this, and soil directly adjacent to houses is usually quite compacted – meaning that the space between all the individual molecules of soil has been pushed out leaving little space for oxygen and creating an anaerobic environment (Like a bog, where lack of oxygen and other factors preserves organic material for long periods of time). That being said, if there are pre-existing foundation issues (such as a crack), it’s possible for the tree to become a problem factor over time. Cracks create space for water and oxygen, and since tree roots seek this out they can potentially grow into the cracks. They still don’t have the power to further crack the foundation itself, but they can create the conditions that will. Since water expands when it freezes rather than contracts, over the course of a number of years the freeze-thaw cycle can exacerbate existing damage. When a tree root grows into a crack, it will grow to fill the space. When the crack is discovered, the existence of a tree root will often be pointed at in terms of “Creating” the damage, but they’re actually just taken advantage of the environmental conditions. Tree roots also don’t grow very deep an average being in the first 1-2ft of soil max depth.

      In terms of the tree itself, it’s unfortunate your neighbour wanted to plant it right beside the fence and in such close proximity. Native Maple trees grow quite large and tall, depending on how far it is the tree will likely eventually become a problem for the fence and may even become a shared tree over time depending on the growth. It does usually take some time for this to happen, though, and there is the non-zero chance this tree won’t survive or thrive.

      Unfortunately, as it is on their property there is little recourse you have now and the aforementioned scenarios are theoretical and somewhat far off.

      Reply

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