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Crisis button: My neighbor’s tree fell on my property!

Clint Williams
by Clint Williams, Dimespring Contributor

The neighbor’s tree falling onto your house is a big problem, but it generally has a one-call solution.

That call should be to your insurance agent.

If a tree hits a home — no matter where the tree comes from — standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the damage the tree does to the structure and the contents in it, says Loretta L. Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

This includes trees felled by wind, lightning or hail.

If it is a neighbor’s tree that causes the damage, you’re still covered.

READ: Crisis Button: My home was damaged by a natural disaster!

“It doesn’t matter whether or not you own the tree,” Worters says.

If it lands on your home, you can file a claim with your insurance company.

“During a hurricane or windstorm, trees, shrubs and branches can fly through the air and can cause considerable damage to property. In most cases, an insurance company is not going to spend time trying to figure out where a tree or branch came from,” Worters says.

But in some circumstances, your insurance company will seek payment from your neighbor’s insurance company. If that is the case, you may be reimbursed for your deductible.

Insurance will likely pay to remove the tree if it hits your house or another covered structures (such as your garage), or if it blocks the driveway. If a tree blows over in your backyard without hitting the house, the cost of removal will be on you.

READ: Five questions to test your disaster plan

If the neighbor’s tree or branch falls on your car, you’re covered under automobile comprehensive insurance — which you will be carrying if you’re still paying off the loan. If you’re driving a clunker and don’t have comprehensive coverage, you may be out of luck.

“Most likely your neighbor will not be held liable for damages unless you can prove he or she knew the tree was a hazard and failed to handle it accordingly,” says Worters. “Otherwise, if you don’t have comprehensive, you would have to pay for the car out of your own pocket.”

If your neighbor’s tree is dead, dying or diseased and seems like it could fall down at anytime, write a letter — a polite letter — expressing your concerns about the hazard. If the neighbor doesn’t take action in a reasonable amount of time, write a second letter — with a copy of the first letter attached. Those letters could be used as evidence should you need to take your neighbor to small claims court seeking payment for damages done by his tree.

Also, check with city hall to learn if there is a local ordinance that prohibits maintaining any dangerous condition — including a hazardous tree — on private property. Some local governments often step in to take care of, or make the owner take care of, dangerous trees.

But if the neighbor’s tree was otherwise healthy and fell because it was struck by lightning or blown down by a hurricane, that falls under the “acts of God” umbrella and that means you get soaked.

 

Clint Williams is an Arizona-based freelancer for DImespring. He has written for the Arizona Republic and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.