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When the Bough Breaks, Who Owns That Tree?

A question that has sparked many a heated argument over the neighbor’s hedge: who is responsible when that large elm tree crashes on your house? Last fall, we had the October Halloween snow storm and wow, did we get calls. It prompted us to give some thought to the situation and hopefully shed light on the age old question: If a tree falls in the backyard, do I make a sound? Do I approach my neighbor?

Generally speaking, the insurance that covers the damaged house (or patio, car, driveway or playset) will be the primary homeowners insurance that responds to your claim. Even if the tree was completely on your neighbor’s property, it is your own personal insurance that will provide relief for your damages.

Storm damage tree on house

Storm damage tree on house

Most homeowner’s policies provide adequate protection to remove the tree and repair the damages to the house. Note that insurance will not replace the tree or damaged lawns or other shrubbery. Your policy deductible will be applied to the claim.

If during the claim process, it becomes very evident that your neighbor (let’s call him Negligent Ned) was inattentive and effectively caused the tree to fall; your insurer will subrogate or attempt to get reimbursed through the neighbors insurance. It is almost impossible to prove a neighbor caused your damage and even more unlikely that his insurance will pay for your damage.

Chainsaw a tree
Of course, at one point or another, every property owner has a condition where the neighbor’s tree is leaning precariously towards their property. What can you do… wait? Or take action: If you have a good relationship with your buddy Ned next door, have a casual conversation and express your concern for your house and the safety of your family.  If that does not get the chainsaw humming, perhaps offer to split the cost of the tree removal with Ned. And if that generous offer falls on deaf ears, it’s time to put pen to paper.

A well worded, polite yet firm, letter to the neighbor can sometimes work some greenery magic.

We think it’s also a good idea to send a copy of the letter to your municipal building department so they are on notice as well. You cannot force Neighbor Ned to cut down the tree, but you can put him on notice, and if the tree then falls, you may have a better chance to collect from his insurance based upon Ned’s failure to act and his prior knowledge of the precarious situation.

As always, when dealing in legal matters, we highly recommend that you consult with your attorney before putting any plan in action. Your home is your castle and it’s pleasant to live there without having to build a moat to defend against the Negligent Neds of the world.

If you have any questions or interesting stories related to this topic or any home insurance questions, feel free to share them with us! We’d love to hear about how you handled your situation with your “Ned”.

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McCarthy Insurance
378 Elwood Avenue
Hawthorne, NY 10532
Phone: (914) 769-0417

McCarthy Insurance office