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 for fallen tree removal? Let’s find out.

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Who Is Responsible for Tree Removal?

orange chipper with tree branches in foreground

In general, you are only responsible for damage to another’s property if you knew that the 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 your responsibility. If you’re aware of a potentially dangerous tree on your property, take steps to eliminate the threat; if not, you 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 land owner 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.

One of your neighbor’s trees is dead and close to your property line. Now what?

The best thing to do in this case is open up a line of communication with your neighbor. Let him or her know that their tree is dead and ask if they’re willing to have it removed. If your budget allows, offering to share the cost of a tree inspection and/or the removal may help this conversation go a little easier.

Most people will appreciate the heads-up, but if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you hoped (or if your neighbor doesn’t move forward with having the tree inspected or removed), you may need to try a different method.

As with anything involving the possibility of insurance claims and legal action, documentation is key. Compose a letter to your neighbor explaining your concerns about the tree. Clearly request that they have the tree removed, adding that you will take legal action if the tree falls and damages your property.

Send the letter to your neighbor via the US Postal Service, and for your protection, send it certified with a return receipt so that you’ll have documentation that your neighbor received the letter. Make copies of the letter, sending one to your insurance company and keeping one for your records.

Is this how you foster lifelong friendships with your neighbors? Probably not. But your house is one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your life, and you need to protect it.

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 refused 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. Any damage that occurred to your neighbor’s home or property should be handled by your neighbor’s home insurance provider.

Take Action: Remove a Fallen Tree Safely

tree fallen in neighborhood sectioned off with caution tape

When the fallen tree removal responsibility falls to you, don’t try to do the work on your own—always consult a professional. 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 that 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

professional arborist cutting a fallen tree with a chainsaw

Examining trees on your property is your responsibility; 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, this assessment will give you stronger evidence of the tree owner’s negligence.

Many tree service companies have arborists on staff. Be sure to ask the company about their credentials—arborists are certified through the International Society of Arboriculture, while companies can be members of the Tree Care Industry Association. These certifications and memberships demonstrate that the company and its employees are up to date on current safety procedures and tree health recommendations.

Fallen tree removal can be a costly endeavor, especially if it damages property in its wake, so working with a qualified company to take precautions now can ensure a safer environment for your home, family, and neighbors.

The Bottom Line

Trees are a wonderful part of the landscape, but they can also cause major headaches. And because trees can cause so much damage when they fall, keeping an eye on both the trees on your property as well as those in your neighbor’s yard is an important part of keeping your home safe and free from storm damage.

Is it fun talking to your neighbor about who is responsible for a fallen tree? Not really, but it’s one of those parts of homeownership that almost everyone experiences at one point or another. Here are the important points to keep in mind:

  • If the tree falls on your property or your property is damaged, you’ll make a claim through your home insurance company.
  • If the tree falls on your neighbor’s property or their property is damaged, their home insurance will handle the cleanup and repair work.
  • If you knew a tree on your property was damaged and at risk of falling but you didn’t have it removed, your neighbor could take legal action against you.

Likewise, if your neighbor was aware of a dead or dying tree and didn’t take action to remove it, you can take legal action.