Step 1. Talk with your neighbour
Whether you’re thinking of planting a tree or you’re concerned about a neighbour’s tree, the first step is to talk about it with your neighbour. To get ready for the conversation, think about the outcome you’re seeking.
If you’re wanting to plant a tree, start by explaining why you want it where you want it. Describe how the tree will benefit both of you. If you aim to put the tree right on the property line, you need your neighbour’s consent (see above under “What you should know”). Invite your neighbour to talk about options that will work for both of you.
If you have issues with a neighbour’s tree — for example, it overhangs your property — explain your concerns and ask for their thoughts. If your neighbour understands where you’re coming from, it can be easier to explore solutions together. You can put any agreement you reach in a letter to your neighbour.
Step 2. Write a letter
If talking with your neighbour doesn’t resolve matters, you can write a letter setting out your plans or concerns. For example, say you’re worried about the condition of a tree in your neighbour’s yard; it’s leaning far to one side, and a large branch is hanging over your property. In the letter to your neighbour:
- Explain your concerns. For example: the tree appears to be fragile and it’s leaning toward your property. If branches fall, they could cause damage to your garden or your child’s play structure.
- Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. For example: ask your neighbour to arrange for an arborist to come look at the tree and suggest options. Or ask your neighbour to have the tree pruned.
- Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. For example: you have plans to contact the municipality or start a legal action.
Step 3. Try mediation
If you’re unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with a neutral third party who’ll work to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is quicker and much less expensive than taking legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.
On the Mediate BC website, you can search for a mediator based on the community you live in and the type of problem you have. Selecting “Community” under Practice Areas can help narrow your search.
Step 4. Contact your municipality
Whether you’re concerned about a neighbour’s tree or a tree on public property near yours, you can contact your municipality.
For example, you may believe something your neighbour did doesn’t follow local bylaws, such as rules about cutting down a tree or planting a replacement tree. In this case, find out who’s responsible for enforcing the relevant bylaw. After receiving your complaint, the municipality may inspect the problem. They could give your neighbour a fine for violating local bylaws.
Step 5. Consider legal action
If none of the steps above resolve the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. For example, if your neighbour has pruned or removed overhanging branches past the property line, you could sue them for trespass. Or, if you’d told your neighbour about the danger posed by an overhanging branch, and it later fell and caused property damage, you could start a legal action in nuisance or negligence. (See “What you should know” above for an explanation of these concepts.) You could also start a court action before a dangerous tree or branch falls to require your neighbour to remove it.
If you prove your claim, you’ll usually get an order for compensation. But the court can also order other remedies, such as requiring a homeowner to cut overhanging branches and clean up the debris.
If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can bring it before the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.
If your claim falls between $5,000 and $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court. This is faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living side by side. Think of it, therefore, as a last resort.