Fallen Trees: Who Pays When They Cross Property Lines?

Photo credit: Lisa Blue via istockphoto.com

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It’s an age-old philosophical question regarding observation and reality. Ponder that query later while you try this one…

If your tree falls into a neighbor’s property, who pays for its removal and damage? The neighbor. What if a neighbor’s tree goes through your roof? You pay. It doesn’t sound very neighborly though, does it?

Photo credit: Lisa Blue via istockphoto.com

Photo credit: Lisa Blue via istockphoto.com

In short, the Insurance Information Institute (III) states that the homeowner who suffers the damage should call his or her insurance company for removal and repair. This includes trees felled by snow, sleet, ice, windstorm and hail.

Standard homeowners’ insurance policies provide coverage for the damage a tree does to a structure, such as a house or garage, and the contents within it, according to the III.

There is a caveat. It the fallen tree was clearly dead or dying, its owner could be held responsible for the damage. Oftentimes when this happens, the policyholder’s insurance company may subrogate—try and collect from the neighbor’s insurance policy.

Subrogation could occur when the tree was in poor health, dead, or not properly maintained. In that case, the insurer could be reimbursed for the deductible.

The III also states that insurance usually does not pay when a fallen tree has not hit an insured structure. Some will cover felled tree removal if it is blocking a driveway or a ramp for the handicapped.

Document Your Concern

If you notice that a neighbor’s tree looks diseased, dead, or could seemingly cause damage to your property, talk to your neighbor about it. In fact, HouseLogic, a resource from the National Association of Realtors, recommends writing a letter. It should include:

  • A description of the problem
  • Photographs
  • Request for action

Sending a letter does not ensure that the neighbor will take care of the problematic tree. If not, and if a tree limb hangs over your property line, you may prune those branches but not cut down the entire tree. However, be careful. If the tree dies after your trimming, the neighbor could pursue a claim against you. State laws differ, so check before cutting. In fact, HouseLogic suggests informing your neighbor of your intent to trim the tree’s branches to protect your property.

Tree Damages Car

A separate, optional insurance policy covers dings, dents and damage felled trees cause to cars. If such loss occurs, coverage comes from the comprehensive portion of a standard auto insurance policy.

For more information, check out the III podcast Understanding Trees and Insurance.

2 Comments on Fallen Trees: Who Pays When They Cross Property Lines?

  1. B.C.Unsworth // December 14, 2015 at 2:57 pm // Reply

    Who pays for the tree removal?

    Like

    • If the tree falls on your property, you pay. However, if it is your neighbor’s tree and knowingly dead or diseased, the neighbor would pay. Check first with your insurance agent. It’s not always cut and dry.

      Like

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