The Pacific Northwest sometimes sees extreme weather, and windstorms with gusts in excess of 60 mph are not uncommon during the stormy part of the year. Such high winds take their toll sending heavy limbs, debris, and even entire trees crashing down, potentially damaging property. When dealing with a neighbor’s tree on your property, understanding the concept of tree damage responsibility becomes paramount in determining the liable party for any potential damages incurred.
Recently, a woman posted a picture on our Facebook page showing a tree that had fallen onto her house from the neighbor´s property. She expressed her confusion regarding the tree damage responsibility and who should be held accountable for damages caused by fallen trees. In this post, our aim is to delve into the nuances of this situation and shed light on the topic of tree damage responsibility. We will endeavor to offer insights and clarity regarding the party accountable in such circumstances.
As Portland, OR certified arborists, this isn’t a new circumstance for us. In the course of providing Portland tree removal, we’ve seen plenty of neighbor disagreements about fallen trees and tree damage responsibility. In every such circumstance, the first thing to consider is homeowners’ insurance. “Healthy” is a keyword when seeking tree damage coverage under homeowner policies. When a healthy tree falls it is considered an act of God or Nature, and your homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost of damages to your property (minus the deductible and within the provisions of your policy). If the fallen tree is not considered healthy, you face an additional layer of complexity.
Portland Tree Care Experts on Tree Damage Responsibility and Liability
Let’s examine insurance coverage in various possible scenarios, particularly focusing on liability for damage to the neighbor’s property.
Your Tree Falls on Your House:
Your homeowner’s policy should cover this; however, you should be aware of your policy coverage limits. Chances are that you will have to pay a deductible before coverage kicks in. Your coverage likely includes your main home, garage, sheds, and other outbuildings. If structures have been damaged, the policy should also cover debris removal.
Your Tree Falls on Your Neighbor’s House:
Under most conditions, your neighbor’s homeowner’s policy will cover damage to their property. With adequate homeowners’ coverage, you can have peace of mind knowing that you will be protected in case of any damage occurring on your neighbor’s property. Fortunately, the “Liability” component of your coverage specifically addresses situations like this, ensuring that you are covered for liability for damage to your neighbor’s property. In such instances, your insurer would provide coverage up to the limits specified by your homeowners’ liability insurance.
What about the Damage that Could have Been Avoided?
As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to maintain your property, including your trees. If your trees have existing damage such as visible rot and you don’t take care of it, you could be deemed liable if the tree falls.
Who is Liable for Tree Root Damage?
If the tree encroaches onto the neighbor’s property, the neighbor has the right to request the owner to trim the branches, regardless of any existing damage. Moreover, if the invading roots or branches cause significant harm or pose a threat to the neighbor’s property, it becomes crucial to determine who is liable for tree root damage. Identifying the responsible party for the damages caused by the roots becomes essential in such cases.
Be a Good Neighbor:
Avoid liability and prevent neighbor bickering; maintain your trees and regularly inspect for damaged branches, disease, and rot. Of course, as Portland tree care experts, we are available to help in this and all other aspects of tree maintenance and tree health care. Additionally, we consider it a good form to offer to pay for or split your neighbor’s deductible if your tree damages their property. There is no guarantee they will do the same for you if the situation is reversed, but in our experience, it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if you see that your neighbor has damaged or rotting branches that could potentially harm your property, it is advised to write your neighbor a friendly tree trimming request letter (see below for an example) to let them know and ask them if they could remove or trim the tree in question. You can also send a copy of this letter to your insurance company. The goal here is to kindly remind neighbors that if their unhealthy tree causes damage to your property, they could be liable.
Oregon Neighbor Tree Law
Trees contribute to neighborhood beauty and environmental well-being, yet their presence raises property rights and conflict concerns. Oregon’s neighbor tree law clarifies property boundaries: a tree on one owner’s land, even spanning the property line, belongs to them. For a tree solely on your property, the decisions are yours. Joint ownership arises when a tree’s trunk straddles a boundary line, sharing upkeep decisions and costs. Trimming encroaching branches or roots is allowed, adhering to Oregon’s trimming rules. Unauthorized tree removal is prohibited, with violators liable for costs. Mediation can help both parties reach an agreement that respects property rights and promotes a positive neighborhood environment. By understanding your rights and responsibilities, you can effectively navigate potential conflicts and ensure that the beauty and value of trees enrich your community. Remember, open communication and cooperation are essential to fostering a positive atmosphere when dealing with neighbor tree issues.
Example Tree Trimming Request Letter to Neighbor:
I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to bring your attention to the tree located at [location]. I have some concerns regarding its condition, as it appears to be [diseased/have a broken branch/overgrown]. I worry that if it were to fall, it might cause damage to my property.
If you are the owner of this tree, I kindly request that you assess its condition and take the necessary steps to ensure its safety, such as arranging for pruning, trimming, or any other required measures. However, if you are not the owner, I will take it upon myself to further investigate and determine who the responsible party is.
Thank you for your understanding and assistance in this matter.
[Your house number]
Contact Urban Forest Pro With Any Questions on Tree Damage Responsibility
Everyone here at Urban Forest Professionals is here to help as well. Our nearby arborists can provide a comprehensive and professional inspection, conducting a thorough diagnosis of potential problems. They can efficiently remove damaged and diseased branches/sections, alleviating you from the potential cost and liability associated with such issues.
Remember—you are not liable for any damage that your healthy trees do to your neighbor’s property, but this only applies to healthy trees. You can be held liable if regular maintenance could have prevented the damage. Therefore, it’s best to arrange for regular tree care. Call us today about a tree inspection; by ensuring the health of your trees, you could be saving yourself hundreds of dollars on damage liability down the road.
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