“Is it possible that we don’t own our trees?”

As property owners, we are often excited to have our own space to customize and make our own, from the details of the home to the landscape.

In short, we enjoy the feeling of ownership. However, in general, we are usually still part of a community. We may have to share the cost of repairing a fence on a property line with a neighbour, and we likely have property taxes to pay and municipal or regional bylaws to follow. This is especially true when it comes to trees, whether they are on a shared property line or in the middle of your yard.

More and more municipalities have community plans that include preservation of significant trees, especially heritage or protected species.

Municipalities are beginning to recognize that the whole community benefits from the collective effect of canopy cover across many properties, in parks, and along roadways. As a result, it is increasingly common to have to get a permit to remove a tree—in recognition that though the tree is on your property it is an asset to the entire community.

A significant tree may have been on your property for decades and may be there for decades after you move on.

It is important to keep in mind that any maintenance strategies you adopt will not only be inherited down the road by future property owners but could also affect this living organism for its lifetime.

Finally, trees provide shade, bird habitat and lovely views not just to you, but also to your neighbours. It’s entirely possible that your neighbour may love and appreciate a tree on your property far more than you do, despite not “owning” it.

We encourage our clients to think of their trees not as possessions but as shared assets, and to be mindful of the possible impact certain maintenance strategies might have on neighbours.

Caring for trees often overlaps with caring for people.

The best way to move forward with a chosen course of action, particularly if it might be drastic—like a removal, is to make sure it isn’t a surprise to your neighbours. Knock on their door and let them know what you plan to do.

If you need support in talking to the neighbours, we are often happy to explain the situation from an arboriculture standpoint. We would rather spend our time in education beforehand than in calming someone who is surprised and upset during the work. As we’ve said before, caring for trees often overlaps with caring for people. Having these conversations before work is done tends to do wonders for future goodwill and long-term happy relationships with neighbours.

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