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West Vancouver couple ordered to pay for topping their neighbours’ trees

Neighbours ordered to pay more than $48,000 in damages
tree lawsuit
A dispute over trees led to a court action between neighbours on two properties in West Vancouver's Sentinel Hill neighbourhood.

A West Vancouver couple has been ordered to pay almost $50,000 and permanently stay off their Sentinel Hill neighbours’ property after a judge found they trespassed to top cedar trees and improve their view.

According to a ruling released by the B.C. Supreme Court this week, Erminia Minicucci became concerned about the privacy of her yard after her neighbours began construction on their home next door. In 2017, she hired contractors to plant eight 25-foot cedar trees and 20 10-foot cedars along the property line at a cost of over $38,000, the ruling states.

In the spring of 2018, their neighbour Yang Liu, also known, as Andrew Liu, complained that the trees were interfering with his view and asked if they could be trimmed. The Minicuccis said no, but sometime between Aug. 18 and 20, 2018 “Mr. Liu topped numerous of the cedar trees,” Justice Elizabeth McDonald noted.

Minicucci sued for damages and trespassing. In response, Liu countersued, seeking damages from the Minicuccis, alleging their boiler pipe emitted fumes into his home, and asserting their home security cameras invaded his privacy.

Liu told the court he topped the trees by about six inches, using a ladder he’d placed. The Minicuccis, however, submitted photos to the court that showed that two to three feet had been removed. Topping the trees would permanently change their future growth, causing them to grow outwards, rather than upwards, according to their arborist’s evidence in court.

When Minicucci’s husband confronted Liu’s partner, she told him they had permission from the District of West Vancouver to cut the trees (which they did not, McDonald noted).

Minicucci complained to the court that esthetic value of her trees had been permanently altered and that the privacy of their yard had been lost. The experience, along with Liu’s trespass, left them anxious and unable to get the same enjoyment from their property, fearing further retaliation from Liu, the court documents state.

Liu argued that the trees have since grown back to their original height, and that any damages awarded should be minimal.

McDonald agreed to award Minicuccis $17,000 in general damages for the trees plus $1,154 in special damages and $30,000 in punitive damages for the trespass.

The plaintiffs also sought a court injunction banning their neighbours from entering their property without consent, and/or physically disturbing their property, which McDonald agreed to.

In his countersuit, Liu alleged the Minicuccis extended their home’s boiler pipe beyond the soffit, sending its emissions and smells into his home.

Minicucci countered that the pipe was installed according to code and that it emits harmless water vapour only. An affidavit filed by a plumber asserted “water vapour emitted from a boiler pipe of this nature is odourless.” In any event, Minicucci paid to have it redirected upward, the judge noted.

McDonald found the emissions did not create an unreasonable interference with Liu’s use of his home.

“I do not find that the pipe’s discharge is comparable to wafting tobacco smoke or greasy cooking fumes of the type found sufficient to ground respective claims of nuisance,” she wrote.

As for the security cameras, the judge accepted Minicucci’s argument that it was reasonable to install them aimed at their cedar trees, given that Liu had already once told them he planned to “trim the trees over the fence and send you the bill.”

McDonald dismissed both of Liu’s claims.