There is something terrifying about the thought of a tree falling on a house. Perhaps you have warily looked at the trees around your house and wondered how they would hold up during inclement weather—and then wondered whose responsibility it would be to handle the removal should one fall. So, who is responsible?

In general, homeowners are only responsible for damage to another’s property if the homeowners knew that their tree was diseased or dead. This usually means that the decay is visible—for instance, limbs without leaves in summer months. Non-visible damage that only an arborist could discover would not typically be the homeowner’s responsibility. If a homeowner is aware of a potentially dangerous tree on his or her property, it’s highly advisable to take steps to eliminate the threat; if not, the homeowner may be liable for any damages caused by that tree falling.

It is important to note that fallen tree removal and liability vary by state and/or municipality. For example, urban areas may have higher standards of care than rural areas, such that an urban homeowner may need to be more diligent than a rural landowner in inspecting trees on property lines. You should check with your municipality’s arborist division to determine the standards in your area.

Below are some general guidelines that apply in many areas of the country. Please note that a tree on public property is likely owned by a municipality.

A neighboring tree fell on your property. Now what?

  • If the tree owner was negligent about visible disease, then you may want to file a lawsuit against him or her. But be aware that such trials can be lengthy and expensive, and it can be difficult to prove negligence.

  • If there was no negligence on the tree owner’s part, then you are responsible for cleaning up the part of the tree that’s on your property as well as paying for the damage to your home, whether out of pocket or through your insurance. It is possible to discuss monetary arrangements with your neighbor, but the tree owner is under no legal obligation to pay for any damage to your property.

Your tree falls on a neighboring property. Now what?

  • If you were negligent about visible disease, then a lawsuit may be filed against you.
  • If there was no negligence on your part, then you are only responsible for cleaning up the part of the tree that’s on your property, not your neighbor’s. Again, it is possible to discuss joint cleanup with your neighbor, but it is not required.

Examining trees on your property is definitely your responsibility; so take the time now to inspect them for visual damage, and then consider hiring an arborist to provide an expert assessment. An arborist can thoroughly evaluate the health of your trees and identify potential hazards. If you’re concerned about a particular tree on a neighboring property, you can have it evaluated and then officially notify the tree owner of its dangerous condition; if the tree does fall on your property, you have stronger evidence of the tree owner’s negligence. Fallen tree removal can be a costly endeavor, especially if it damages property in its wake, so taking precautions now can ensure a safer environment for your home, neighbors, and family.

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Sources: Bethesda Magazine; Georgia Bar Journal; Odd Job, The Tree Specialists, Inc.; The Washington Post.

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