Is my tree mine?

Ownership of trees and some relevant bylaw rules are a vital part of the Vancouver landscape. In our city, trees are generally separated into two categories, trees on public land and trees on private property. The city and park board arborists take care of all trees on public land, performing pruning, pest and disease prevention and management. On private property, trees are the property of the homeowner, who must abide by the rules and regulations of the City of Vancouver Tree Bylaw. Specifically, the Protection of Trees Bylaw 9958 affects all private property owners wanting to remove a tree.

Ownership of trees can be described as follows:
• Covenant trees – number of trees that are supposed to be retained on a property per a signed agreement between the municipality and landowner
• Straddling trees – trees that are on the property line, shared between neighbors
• Off-site trees – trees on neighboring sites
• City trees – trees on city property, which usually extend 6m from the center of the road

Some Rules of the Game include:
• “DBH” means the diameter of a tree at breast height, measured from base of the tree to a height of 140 cm above natural grade of the ground. For multi-stemmed trees, the DBH is equal to the cumulative total of the DBH of each stem.
• “Permit Tree” means a tree that is 20 cm DBH or greater and any size tree in a Conservation Area or on City owned property.
• “Critical Root Zone” means the area of land surrounding the trunk of a tree contained within a circle of radius equal to the DBH of the tree multiplied by 18; or equal to the “dripline” of the tree, whichever is greater.

It is the owner’s responsibility to preserve and maintain trees on their property. Any intentional harm to trees, even on private property, could be penalized. In 2018, the owner of a Georgetown mansion was fined more than $53,000 for “excessive pruning” of two of his own trees by the Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation, even when the pruning was done to preserve a historic building.

Straddling trees are the most problematic to deal with in private tree cases. Sometimes it is not as simple as dividing up responsibility based on where the property line is. The point at which tree is measured affects ownership. Some common terms used in this type of cases are negligence, care, and nuisance. It is important to consult professionals and obtain written reports when dealing with potential legal matters. At the end of the day, a harmonious neighbor relationship benefits both sides. It is advised that you always inform your neighbour of any potential major tree work, even if the tree is well on your side of the property line. Pruning or removing trees will always affect the visual landscape to some degree.