The thought of a tree falling on a house is terrifying. Even if no members of the household are harmed in the process, the structural damage, as well as damage to possessions, could end up costing thousands in replacement, repairs, and temporary lodging.

The trees around your home are usually part of the deal when you purchase the property, so it’s difficult to know how long they’ve been there. Perhaps you’ve warily looked at the trees outside your window and wondered how old they are, or 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?

Tree Removal Liability

dying tree losing its bark

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. Other signs a tree is dying include:

  • Yellow, brown, and brittle leaves or needles during the growing season, especially on the top third of the tree
  • Excessive broken or fallen branches
  • Patches of missing bark
  • Fungus growth
  • Rows of holes from wood-boring insects
  • Severed or slimy roots
  • Noticeable lean in one direction

The 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.

State and municipal variation

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. 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 municipality likely owns a tree on public property.

A Neighboring Tree Fell on Your Property. Now What?

Inspect the fallen tree for signs of decay. If the tree owner was negligent about a visible disease and refuses to remove the tree themselves, 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 a 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 by law.

Take Action: Remove a Fallen Tree Safely

tree fallen in neighborhood sectioned off with caution tape

When the responsibility falls to you, seeking professional help for removal is highly recommended. Handling chainsaws and other power tools can be extremely dangerous, especially if you’re a novice, and especially after a major storm, when surfaces are likely still slick with water or ice.

Never try to detangle limbs from a power line, even if the utility has shut off power. An incorrectly installed or damaged generator has the potential to back-feed power onto the grid and cause electrocution. Partially fallen trees are also dangerous, as they are usually supported by branches that could buckle if disturbed and resume falling.

When soliciting hazardous work like tree removal, it is important the removal company carries insurance designating workers’ compensation, as there is a high risk of on-site injury. All Best Pick tree removal companies are insured, carry workers’ comp, and undergo annual customer research to maintain their A rating, so you can hire with confidence.

Take Precaution: Consult a Professional Arborist

Examining trees on your property is your responsibility; so take the time now to inspect them for visible 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 assessed and then officially notify the tree owner of its dangerous condition. If the tree does fall on your property, you would 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, family, and neighbors.