FAQs on Boundary Trees

SIX SIMPLE THINGS you should know about boundary trees (also known as shared trees). The answers are based on the Ontario Forestry Act and the Ontario Superior Court 2013 Ruling (upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal 2015).
Photos of boundary trees are available here and can also help you discern whether or not your tree might be a boundary tree.

QUESTION 1: My neighbour claims that s/he can automatically cut down a tree growing across the property line without my consent. Is this true?
Image fillAnswer: NO (Ontario).
A tree with its trunk growing across a property line is considered shared-property and in normal circumstances should not be injured or destroyed without the neighbor’s consent. The trunk is a key factor in such a case. It can be a serious offence to injure or cut down a tree whose trunk grows across a property line. In Ontario, consequences include a fine of up to $20,000 and 3-months jail time or BOTH.

QUESTION 2: What if the majority of the trunk grows on one neighbor’s property? Doesn’t this automatically mean that it is his or her tree?
Image fillAnswer: NO (Ontario).
Even if the majority of the tree’s trunk grows on one side, it is still a shared tree and therefore common property. In other words, it is not a percentage game. Even if the tree’s trunk grows only a few cm or inches on one side, it is still a shared tree.

QUESTION 3: What is the trunk of a tree?
Image fillAnswer:
The trunk of a tree includes everything from where the base of the tree meets the roots (the root collar) to where the tree sends out its first branches (leaders). So the trunk includes everything from the base/root collar (sometimes this is located below the ground) up to where the tree begins to branch. If any portion of this trunk crosses the property boundary, the tree is common property.

QUESTION 4: My neighbor claims that the base of the tree at ground level is completely on his/her side and that therefore the tree belongs to him/her. Is this true?
Image fillAnswer:  NO (Ontario).
Using the definition above, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that if any portion of the trunk crosses the boundary line, it is a co-owned tree. The trunks of trees are irregular, so sometimes a trunk will not cross a property line at ground level, but may nevertheless cross the property line below ground (at the root collar) or further up. If the trunk of the tree crosses the property line at ANY point between the root collar and where it branches, it is common property, and therefore protected by the Ontario Forestry Act. The ruling established that there is no ONE arbitrary point on the trunk of a tree where it must cross a property line—anywhere along the trunk is sufficient.

QUESTION 5: My neighbor claims that if the City of Toronto gives a homeowner a permit to remove or injure a tree, this means the permit-holder can automatically cut it down—even in the case of boundary trees. Is this true?
Image fillAnswer:   NO (Ontario).
The City of Toronto, for example, does not require co-consent between neighbors BEFORE issuing a permit to destroy a boundary tree. Instead, the fine print on the permit states that the permit applicant is responsible for all “civil and common law” issues. This means that the permit-holder is responsible for consulting with co-owners before going ahead with either injuring or destroying a boundary tree. Many permit holders interpret their tree-removal permit to mean that the City is giving them permission to just go ahead and do what they want, but this is incorrect. After the 2013 Ruling, the City of Toronto changed its procedures for boundary trees and now notifies (in writing) all co-owners of the application for a tree-removal permit.

QUESTION 6: Why doesn’t the City of Toronto require co-consent between neighbors of boundary trees BEFORE issuing a permit to destroy or injure a boundary tree?
Image fillAnswer:
This would certainly help to make things less confusing, but unfortunately prior co-consent for boundary trees is not the case in Toronto—at least, not at present. In 1997, the City of Toronto required the PRIOR co-consent of homeowners before issuing a tree removal permit in cases involving boundary trees. In 1998, however, developers lobbied City Council to have this removed from Toronto’s Tree Protection By-laws claiming that it impeded development. They were successful, and the prior consent clause was removed.
The Hartley vs Cunningham/Scharper Ruling, however, did result in some positive changes to both Toronto’s Private Tree By-Laws as well as Urban Forestry procedures for issuing permits. See here.







6 Comments on “FAQs on Boundary Trees

  1. Thank you for your blog. Very informative we have an infill application in Guelph Ontario on Mont Street that would involve the cutting of boundary trees. |I have informed the neighbours of the Ontario Superior court ruling hopefully they will be able to save these trees. Thank you laura

  2. Question: I have a boundary tree. The trunk lies 90% on my property. I understand the law states that I am not allowed to cut down or injure the tree without the consent of my neighbour. However, am I allowed to prune the tree branches on my side or screw a bracket into the trunk for a fence support. Is this considered injuring it?
    Thank you

  3. It is my understanding that in the case of a boundary tree, you can prune tree branches that extend across your property line, as long as the pruning does not injure the tree. (Always a good idea to coordinate pruning with the co-owners if possible.) Screwing in a bracket for fence support can seriously injure a tree. My suggestion would be to consult with a certified arborist and discuss this with the co-owners.
    Thanks for your interest in this site!

  4. A developer is going to the Committee of Adjustment May 4, 2017 to ask to take down 18 Ravine protected trees and saplings and injure 9 other Ravine protected trees and take out most of the 107 cedar fence. He is trying to build 2 houses in the backyard of corner lot. Toronto City Planning has no objection! Urban forestry has objected. The cedar fence is mutual and his development will also impact my Ravine protected old oak trees. Help!

  5. We have a neighbour that owns a private road where we have a legal deeded access then we have a tree line for privacy which has
    Been there for almost 40 years .Can that neighbour cut away at the trees ? some are on our property line and some are on the right way., Help!

  6. It sounds like you will need to have clarity on which tree trunks cross your property line. In Ontario, if the trunks of the trees cross the property line, then they are boundary trees and are protected as co-owned property through the Ontario Forestry Act. If any of the trees in your case crosses the property line, then they are shared/boundary trees and you are a co-owner. As a result, your neighbour needs your permission/consent to injury or cut down any co-owned trees. (You would have to ask a lawyer about the right-of-way property–that’s a very interesting situation! Depending on where you live, there may also be by-laws protecting private trees from being felled. Your neighbour would have to follow these rules if s/he wishes to cut down trees on his/her private property.)

    You may wish communicate info on the boundary trees to your neighbour and indicate that you consider yourself a co-owner. It might also help to point your neighbour to the info on this website. It is best if this is done in writing and sent requesting a signature. Doing some of these things proactively will help you establish your co-ownership rights at the outset. You can also call or send a letter (cc:ing neighbour) to your local police indicating that you have some boundary trees and are concerned about your property rights being respected and protected.
    In the meantime, you can also have a line-survey done confirming exactly which tree trunks cross the property line (if haven’t already done so). You can also have your boundary trees “valued” by an arborist so that you can indicate damages if they are injured or harmed by our neighbour.

    Hope this helps!

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