With ocean views at stake, B.C. man snuck onto neighbour's multimillion-dollar property to cut tops off trees
A West Vancouver homeowner has been ordered by a B.C. court to keep off his neighbour’s property and pay her $48,000 after he cut the tops off of her cedar trees.
The ruling follows a multi-year spat between two families who lived next door to each other in newly-constructed homes with private outdoor swimming pools and ocean views, both located on multimillion-dollar properties in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.
Erminia Minicucci had her home custom-built in a residential area of a West Vancouver, B.C., hillside with plans to stay for the long term and retire there, read court documents. But with her neighbours, Yang Liu and Ying Liang, also building their home on the lot above hers, she worried about her privacy. So in July 2017, Minicucci paid landscapers $38,000 to plant 28 trees along the property line she shared with Liu and Liang.
Nearly a year later, Liu complained to Minicucci and her husband that the trees, a mix of three-metre-tall and 7.5-metre-tall cedars – which had by then grown by nearly a metre – were interfering with the view from his three-storey home. Liu asked if he could trim the trees. The Minicuccis said no.
“These parties are neighbours who live side-by-side in a suburban area where there are ocean and city views at stake,” reads the ruling from B.C. Supreme Court justice Elizabeth McDonald.
Liu didn’t take the Minicuccis' no for an answer. Instead, when his neighbours were on vacation in the summer of 2018, he snuck onto their property with a ladder and lopped the tops off “numerous” trees, says the ruling.
When the they returned, Mr. Minicucci, went over to speak with the neighbours. The wife, Liang, claimed they’d received permission from the city to trim the trees. But as the judge noted in her ruling, that was “untrue.”
The Minicuccis took photographs of the scene and called in their arborist to inspect the damage. The arborist noted that the tree-tops had been taken off and that “there were still cuttings on the ground,” reads the ruling. She also concluded the cedars had been permanently damaged and would now be focused on growing outwards rather than upwards.
The Minicuccis installed two security cameras overlooking their trees and hired a company to monitor them.
The aggrieved couple also had their lawyer send Liu and Liang a letter, to which Liu replied with further tree-trimming threats.
Liu would “trim the trees over the fence and send (Mr. Minicucci) the bill,” he wrote in his Sept. 17 email.
The Minicuccis decided to sue. In October, two weeks after receiving Liu’s email, they filed a B.C. civil lawsuit seeking damages.
In it they claimed that the “aesthetic value of the trees has been substantially and permanently altered,” and that they had “lost the privacy” that trees gave until they grew back to their original height.
The family also said they’d “suffered considerable stress and anxiety” due to Liu’s actions, and feared that he would come back and cut their trees again. The conflict had “significantly diminished (Erminia Minicucci’s) enjoyment of her home and yard,” and she considered moving, even though she’d been planning to stay long-term, reads the ruling.
“(Erminia Minicucci) began to fear leaving her home and she worried about her daughter being home alone.”
Seven months later, in 2019, Liang and Liu filed a counterclaim. In it, Liang admitted it was wrong to trim the trees but claimed he’d done so out of frustration with his neighbours for another issue: a pipe was emitting steam from the Minicuccis' boiler and it bothered him. He also claimed that the security cameras that the Minicuccis had installed to overlook the trees also captured parts of his yard, and interfered with his privacy.
The boiler steam pipe issue dated back to 2017. At the time, Liu had been concerned that the location of the Minicuccis' boiler pipe would cause water damage to their own home, and suggested it be relocated to their roof. The Minicuccis arranged for the pipe to be fixed. But instead of rerouting the pipe and its steam to their roof (which their contractor said would create “visual clutter”), they had it extended, so that the boiler steam would release further away from their house. As the ruling notes, this meant the pipe was now closer to Liu and Liang’s house.
Liu and Liang claimed that the steam contained natural gas emissions that “wafted towards their home forcing them to keep their patio doors and windows closed and preventing their children from playing on their front driveway,” reads the ruling.
In court documents, Liu claimed gas emissions “could be smelled from inside his home and from the front driveway of his home.”
But the judge dismissed Liu’s claims, noting that he never described the odour in his counterclaim, that he hadn’t mentioned any odour when the Minicuccis’ contractor consulted with him before relocating the pipe, and that an expert contractor confirmed such pipes only emit steam.
“I find that the defendants’ claim for nuisance associated with the discharge from the boiler pipe is prompted by excessive delicacy and fastidiousness,” the judge wrote.
As for the cameras, Liu and Liang claimed that the backyard camera, “with its red light indicator, was plainly visible” by them and their guests from their yard. Therefore, they claimed it was a violation of their privacy.
The judge also dismissed the complaints about the security cameras and found the Minicuccis had done their best to angle the cameras so they only recorded the trees. Furthermore, the cameras were a reasonable response to Liu having trespassed on their property, the judge said
The ruling also states that the Minicuccis took down their camera and rerouted the boiler steam pipe after Liu filed his counterclaim.
On Aug. 20, the judge ordered Liu and Liang to pay $18,175 in general and special damages and another $30,000 in punitive damages, plus interest. They were also ordered not to enter their neighbour’s property, to contact them, or meddle with anything located on their property.
But, it appears that Liu and Liang may have moved. The property, described in the court ruling as being above and adjacent to the Minicuccis', sold for $6.3 million in April of this year, according to B.C.’s land assessment registry. A sales video for the home shows an ocean view from a living room with a few tree-tops peeking up.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The organization representing Canada's tourism industry is applauding the U.S. government's decision to allow Canadian travellers with mixed vaccine doses once the border opens in November.
W5 INVESTIGATES | Can you be addicted to food? Theory on what's fuelling North America's obesity problem gains ground
Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV: W5 investigates a theory that's not widely accepted in scientific circles, but is gaining ground: that North America's obesity problem is being fuelled by a physical addiction to highly processed foods.
Mounties in Nunavut have charged a man with first-degree murder in the May death of actress Emerald MacDonald.
Melbourne, which has spent more time under COVID-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world, is set to lift its stay-at-home orders this week.
New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who days ago was sentenced in a two-decade-old murder case, has been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, his lawyer said Saturday.
The New Brunswick RCMP says it remains committed to 'strengthening relationships' between Mounties and Indigenous communities, as the province finds itself in the midst of litigation involving several Indigenous groups.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the government will continue to require travellers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon entry into the country so long as the Public Health Agency of Canada advocates for it.
A 72-year-old man RCMP said was last seen on Oct. 8 was found dead, and his wife now faces a second-degree murder charge.
Leaders from across the political spectrum came together Saturday to pay tribute to a long-serving British MP who was stabbed to death in what police have described as a terrorist incident.
Victoria woman's appearance in Netflix series after experiencing addiction and homelessness inspires hope
When Carey Oakes embraced her first guitar, she couldn’t have imagined how dynamic the soundtrack to her life would become.
A Victoria mother will never forget the time she took her oldest daughter to buy heroin, so the teen could smoke it in the car next to her on the way into an emergency department, desperate to get her child into treatment.
Small businesses are a major player in B.C.’s economy, including here in the Capital Region, so this month the province is highlighting the vital role the sector plays in all of our lives.
Critics admonish Sean Chu over 'discreditable conduct' involving teenage girl
Police say charges have been laid against a 25-year-old in connection with a series of attacks in the downtown core early Friday.
A warning was issued after a cougar was seen approaching people in the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, according to Alberta Parks.
Ditching the practice of switching the time twice a year may seem like a no-brainer to some, but Alberta psychologists warn that the result of a provincial referendum could have unexpected consequences.
A downtown intersection got a facelift Saturday that neighbourhood residents hope will improve safety and bring a bit of brightness.
A new art gallery has opened in the Cavanagh neighbourhood in southwest Edmonton, it features the works of Chans, an award-winning south Asian artist.
A woman pulled from a house fire in Mississauga Saturday afternoon has died from her injuries, Peel police say.
Toronto police have identified the 27-year-old man killed in a shooting in North York early Saturday morning.
Ontario is reporting 486 new COVID-19 cases, marking the sixth day in a row in which the daily case count was below 500.
Quebec singer Ginette Reno revealed Saturday in a social media post from her hospital room that she is struggling with a rare heart condition.
Police are investigating after a Lamborghini wound up smashed and abandoned in the middle of a Montreal boulevard.
A 53-year-old Montreal woman alleges she was thrown to the ground by police after lowering her mask while leaving a metro station.
A former Manitoba Catholic youth camp is being repurposed as a healing village for Indigenous women.
A shortage of qualified sports officials in Manitoba has the potential to affect an athlete’s ability to play the game they love because, without them, there are no games.
Family members who have loved ones living at two personal care homes in the Southern Health region tell CTV News they have been given the heads-up they may need to help with care starting next week.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies stormed onto the field for their first home game in 714 days, playing against the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
A 32-year-old woman was found dead on Friday after RCMP investigated the whereabouts of the missing woman on Onion Lake Cree Nation.
Saskatchewan set a new daily record for COVID-19 ICU patients on Saturday, with 81 people currently receiving intensive care.
The Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation following a train derailment in Strasbourg.
Despite plateauing COVID-19 case numbers, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said the province is far from clearing the fourth wave.
Three more New Brunswickers have died as a result of COVID-19, public health confirmed on Saturday.
'Glace Bay has been challenged': Funeral held for teen girl who died in Cape Breton, N.S. house fire
Community members and loved ones gathered at a funeral home in Glace Bay, N.S. on Saturday to fondly remember a teenaged girl taken too soon.
A crowd of supporters of controversial vaccine mandate and mask opponent Chris Saccoccia, also known as Chris Sky, turned out at Victoria Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is reporting 15 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, but no new deaths.
For five years, craft brewers in Ontario have been asking for access to sell in the more than 180 local farmers markets. They've finally have been granted their wish.
After two years of preparation, the North Bay Mountain Bike Association has officially opened the brand new 5km trails and pump track called 'Three Towers Trail Network.'
The town of Blind River's annual tradition of "dancing witches" returns, with its biggest rendition yet.
New research from IDP Connect finds that more than one-third of students surveyed rate Canada as their first choice for post-secondary studies.
27-year-old Randy Nguyen from Cambridge has been identified as the shooting victim in a homicide investigation in Toronto.
Tire shops have already begun installing winter tires for customers gearing up for the upcoming season, but a lack of overseas shipments is causing industry professionals to worry about their inventory in the coming months.
Students enrolled at the University of Guelph are connecting with the community through short-term volunteering opportunities made possible through Project Serve.