Talking to Neighbours About Trees

From the Toronto Island Community, Bronwyn Clement & Connie Clement

Neighbours have tensions about trees for a number of reasons. For instance: trees that grow across property boundaries; the potential of, or actual damage to, property from neighbours’ trees (e.g. tree limbs falling on roofs); overhanging branches and/or intruding roots; and, inversely, a renovation’s impact on tree growth or future trees.

To help you think through how to talk with a neighbour about these concerns, we found a couple of helpful resources. Queensland, Australia’s government provides a step-by-step guide to neighbour disputes that offers advice about consulting your neighbour that begins with:

Talk to your neighbour. Often, a friendly chat is all that is needed; your neighbour may not be aware of a problem. It’s helpful to remember that when it comes to trees, people can have markedly different views and opinions.

• Find a time and place when and where you can discuss the issue. (Don’t assume you can resolve it in a single chat.)

Explain how the issue is affecting you. Don’t start by stating your ideal solution and your view of what should be done.

Give your neighbour a chance to tell their side and understanding of the situation. Be prepared to listen and let the other people know you are listening.

More generally, a great resource for helping each side in a potential conflict achieve positive outcomes is a book, Getting to Yes, developed by Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. The principles, in brief, are:

• Separate the people from the issue.

• Focus on interests, not positions.

• Learn to manage emotions.

• Express appreciation.

• Pay attention to the positive.

• Escape the cycle of action and reaction.

Remember also to tell your neighbours about their trees that you appreciate and enjoy.

For further information about these resources see Step-by-step guide to resolving tree and fence disputes from Queensland Government and Six guidelines for Getting to Yes from Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School.

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