Trees bring rules, responsibilities

Trees bring rules, responsibilities

By Shirley Rooker, President, Call For Action

What are the most common problems involving trees?

The problems range from littering the yard to causing severe damage to a house or car. For example, one consumer complained that her neighbor’s tree dropped berries and leaves into her air conditioning unit causing it to stop working and costing a sizeable sum to get it repaired.

Another listener wrote that a limb from his neighbor’s tree had fallen and damaged his car and he was expected to file a claim with his insurance company, and pay the deductible.

No matter what the problem, trees can be a significant source of disagreement among neighbors. For example, something as simple as a tree blocking the sun from a garden or solar panels or something as complex as the root system invading the basement or water pipes of a nearby house can cause a rift between neighbors.

What are the rules regarding trees and neighbor’s rights?

There are a variety of answers to that question. It depends on where you live and/or the covenants in your community association.

Let’s take the example of the berries and leaves dropping on an air conditioner. In that case, she lived in a county that permitted her to cut back limbs from a neighbor’s tree that overhung her property line. However, she could not have them cut back so far that they would threaten the health of the tree.

In the case of the damaged car, the tree limb falling was considered an act of nature and the car owner is responsible for the car repair. However, if the car owner had alerted the neighbor to a dangerous tree limb and it subsequently fell and did damage, then the neighbor could be held responsible.

How can consumers protect themselves?

The best way to deal with problem trees is to have a friendly conversation with the neighbor. Issues should be brought into the open and possible solutions. If a tree appears to have dead branches bring them to your neighbor’s attention. You can even offer to share the cost of having the branches removed.

It is very important that you check with your local jurisdiction to see what rules govern overhanging trees.

In some cases the tree may straddle a property line, then both neighbors are considered owners and responsible for its care and maintenance.

One of the big problems with trees is that they can fall on people. How do we prevent problems before they happen?

When there is a tremendous amount of rain the ground becomes soaked and does not provide support for tree roots and makes them susceptible to toppling over in a strong wind. While you can’t stop the rain you can do some things to protect your trees. For one thing, evaluation the shape and health of the tree! If the tree really leans toward a building you might want to consider if it should be removed or perhaps have the top thinned out so that it isn’t top heavy. If it isn’t healthy with a large number of dead branches it should be evaluated by an expert. If the tree can be saved then you could have it trimmed to remove the dead wood.

What are some questions you should ask before hiring someone to work on trees in your yard?

The first thing to ask is if the company is licensed to do business in the county. Ask for and inspect the license. The second question is whether the company has insurance on its workers. In some jurisdictions the company may be required to carry insurance, however, ask to see proof of insurance and call the insurer to verify the policy exists. Also, unless there is an emergency take your time in hiring someone to work on your property. In addition to verifying the license and insurance policy, ask for and check out references. If the company doesn’t insure its workers you may be liable if there is an accident while they are working on your trees.

Will homeowners insurance pay to have a fallen tree removed from your property even though no damage was done?

Not according to some sources, the homeowner and/or the neighbor will have to pay the removal service.

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