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Do I have to trim my tree to keep my neighbour happy?

The question

We have a beautiful green ash tree, planted in the middle of our front yard when we moved into our home 30 years ago. It has become the disdain of our next-door neighbour as it drops leaves, etc., on his truck, which he parks on the driveway despite having only one car in their two-car garage. We have, over the past two years, removed several large branches that were hanging a few feet over onto his property. He wanted more branches removed that were touching his truck when he drove into his driveway, and one other that hung directly over it when parked. My wife, an avid gardener, said that we should not completely cut off the one branch, otherwise the balance of the tree would be significantly altered aesthetically. The branch crosses his property then extends over the public sidewalk. I had a chat with him and explained what we had done to accommodate his latest issue. His reply was, "We'll see how it works." We've had enough of his pushy ways and would only cut this branch in question if forced to do so.

The answer

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Neighbour issues are tough. I get a lot of questions re: neighbours. They can be prickly.

To me, it's even tougher when a tree is involved, because trees are beautiful, living things. I had a tree in my backyard I loved, 100 feet tall and it had to be 100 years old. Best tree on the block. It provided shade, oxygen and solace for anyone in the vicinity. We called it, affectionately, The Tree of Whizz-dom because no dog passing it could seem to refrain from lifting a leg.

But … its roots were pushing up my neighbour's garage. What can you do? It had to come down. (Turned out it was getting old and would've had to come down pretty soon anyway.) We split the costs. Naturally, he insisted on doing it the most expensive way possible.

Why'd I consent? To be a good neighbour. And if I can cut down my beloved Tree of Whizz-dom to make my neighbour happy, you can cut a branch.

I wouldn't mount a legal battle against your neighbour. That way lies madness. In the courts and the news recently, there was a hilarious-if-it-weren't-so-sad case of battling neighbours in a hoity-toity part of Toronto, resorting to what even the judge called "kindergarten" tactics: standing and provocatively staring at each other's houses; one neighbour, knowing it would drive the other crazy, taking pictures of the other's house and also their teenage son; poop-and-scooping their dog then depositing it in the neighbour's garbage; giving each other the finger; and so on.

It became obsessive. One neighbour installed 11 cameras, most of them pointed at the other neighbour's house, so he and his wife can monitor the other's activities 24/7.

You don't want to go down the primrose path to that destination. And, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it doesn't sound to me like you have either moral or legal righteousness in your sails. Your neighbour's right to enjoy the property he bought with his hard-earned loot and park his truck in whichever part of his own driveway he chooses, easily trumps the "aesthetics" of your tree.

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It'd be a different conversation if cutting the branch would deleteriously affect the health of the tree – have the neighbour over for a drink and negotiations.

But aesthetics? Fughedaboudit. I had another neighbour (on the other side of the tree-neighbour) who would lunge for his shears and snip off the slightest tendril of anything the minute it poked its way over his fence. It was annoying but I also recognized: It was his right.

Your neighbour, it sounds like, has meanwhile been quite reasonable and even-tempered, and even quite patient – a tree branch scraping against his truck could wind up costing him a fair chunk of change if it scratched the paint job.

So in the interests of sanity, good neighbourly relations and full enjoyment of life and property all around, as long as it won't hurt the tree, give the branch the snip and move on.

It's not worth going to war, poisoning the roots of your little four-year-old seedling of a relationship with your neighbour, so that it grows into a giant problem, over a branch.

What am I supposed to do now? Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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