Your neighbour just planted a new tree. This tree blocks your sunlight and, to top it all off, the branches are damaging your house. Can you force him to take down the tree? If he refuses, can you trim the branches yourself?
The fence you share with him is also a source of problems: the wood is rotting and it is tilting dangerously. You want to split the cost of a new fence. He refuses. Can you force him to pay for half?
In this article, Éducaloi answers questions about trees and fences and explains rights and obligations between neighbours.
Can I cut branches or roots on my neighbour’s tree if they are bothering me?
No. Just because these branches or roots are on your property doesn’t mean you can take matters into your own hands!
You can start by discussing your concerns with your neighbour and asking him to cut them. If your neighbour refuses, you can ask a court to order him to cut them.
But to get a court order, you must prove that they are seriously interfering with your use of your property.
Your complaint must be based on a serious problem. Common inconveniences, like a neighbour’s tree shading your property, or your dislike for a particular kind of tree, are not enough.
What happens if I go ahead and cut the branches or roots on my neighbour’s tree?
If you cut the branches or roots yourself, your neighbour can sue you. The court might order you to pay money to compensate him for damaging or killing his tree.
What if my neighbour refuses to cut branches or roots that are harming my property?
If your neighbour refuses to cooperate after you discuss the situation with him, you can bring your concerns to a court. The court will decide whether your neighbour’s actions are seriously affecting your property, or are just ordinary neighbourhood inconveniences.
To show the court that the situation goes beyond an ordinary inconvenience, you must prove that:
- the branches or roots are physically invading your property, AND
- this invasion seriously harms your property.
Can I force my neighbour to cut down his tree if it risks falling onto my property?
You can ask your neighbour to either prop up the tree or chop it down. Your neighbour has a legal responsibility to prevent his tree from falling onto your property. If you and your neighbour cannot reach an agreement, you can submit the dispute to a court and get an order to have the tree straightened or chopped down.
Do my neighbour’s trees have to be a certain distance from my house?
Quebec law does not specify a precise distance. However, the law does require property owners to behave as “good neighbours”.
This means that trees should be planted far enough from a neighbour’s property to avoid harming that property. This distance will depend on the type of tree.
For example, it could be considered un-neighbourly to plant a weeping willow close to the property line, since this tree has branches that spread out and roots that could damage the property next door.
What if my neighbour’s tree branches or roots damage my property?
The owner of a tree is responsible for any damage. You can ask him for money to compensate you. If he refuses, you can take him to court.
An example of a court finding a tree owner responsible is a case of the owner of a large pine tree that dripped sap onto the vehicles of three neighbours.
But what if a violent storm caused your neighbour’s branches to damage your property?
Your neighbour might blame the damage on an “act of God” to avoid paying for it. Sometimes the law considers severe weather, such as a very violent storm, to be an act of God and beyond the control of the tree owner.
If the case goes to court and your neighbour proves that it really was an act of God, he might be off the hook.
But if the tree is unhealthy, the law assumes that the poor state of the tree, and not the violent storm, is the main reason for falling branches. The decay of a tree is a natural process and not provoked by an act of God, so the owner can be held responsible.
Can I plant any kind of tree on my property?
The Civil Code of Quebec, a law that applies across the province, does not have rules on what kinds of trees you can plant. But you are still generally responsible for your trees and any damage they cause.
Also, some cities and towns have by-laws against tree species that can damage roads and water systems with their very roots. Contact your city or town to find out more.
Who owns the fence between me and my neighbour?
If you install a fence or hedge completely on your side of the dividing line (also called the “property line”), this fence is yours. You are the only owner and you must pay for it.
But if the fence is on the dividing line, you and your neighbour are legally equal partners. You must share the costs of construction and maintenance.
It is important to speak to your neighbour before building a fence on the property line. You can’t just build a fence on the property line and then force him to pay for half. If your neighbour refuses to share the costs, you can ask for a court order allowing you to build the fence and ordering him to pay half.
Who has to pay for construction and maintenance of a common fence?
A common fence is one built on the dividing line between properties. It belongs equally to the two owners. This means both owners must share the costs of construction and maintenance.
Before installing the fence, you must get your neighbour to agree to the type of fence. For example, you can’t replace an ordinary fence with a luxury fence and ask for half the costs without discussing it with your neighbour.
Can I build any kind of fence on my property?
No. You must follow standards that apply in your city or town about height, the type of materials, etc.
But if you build your fence on your property and not on the dividing line, and you respect the standards of your city or town, you can chose the kind of materials and the type of fence.
If you want to build a common fence on the dividing line, then you must either reach an agreement with your neighbour about the type of fence or, if that is impossible, go to court. The court will settle details such as the materials to be used and the height.
Can my neighbour force me to move my fence?
Owners can surround their properties with walls, hedges or fences as long as they respect by-laws in their cities or towns. However, in some situations, your neighbour can require you to move your fence, for example:
- if your fence blocks a place where your neighbour has a right of way,
- if you installed a fence on your neighbour’s property, because this affects his full enjoyment of his property, or
- if you didn’t follow a city or town by-law, such as a rule against barbed wire fences in a suburban setting.
Before taking my neighbour to court over a tree or fence issue, is there something I need to do?
Yes. Before starting legal action, it is very important to send a demand letter telling your neighbour what you want him to do and your intentions if he refuses.