Who pays for the damage when trees fall?

Education & Training with Realty Group Referrals 16766

Who pays for the damage when trees fall?

If a tree falls in the forest, no problem.

But when a tree falls in your yard???


Guest Blog by Harvey S. Jacobs, Published: in The Washington Post 

Trees are serious business. Often the planting, maintenance or removal of trees are the cause of serious neighborhood disputes and unfortunately lawsuits.


During the recent storms, thousands of trees were uprooted, blown over, damaged and otherwise redistributed around the neighborhood. The responsibility for this cleanup has homeowners pulling out their insurance policies and trying to make sense of them.


Generally speaking, trees that fall onto your land are your problem and may be covered by your homeowner's insurance policy. This is true even if those trees are rooted on your neighbor's property. You are responsible for costs of removing the downed tree on your property and for the damages that the tree caused. For this reason, it is essential that you consult your insurance agent to make sure your policy covers these casualties in amounts reasonably calculated to cover the costs of tree removal or restoration.


The average cost for removing a 40-foot tree that is 36 inches around will run approximately $1,000. Actual costs will vary based on the location of the tree, the branches, the tree's condition and whether you want the wood left behind, cut into usable firewood or hauled away.


Before you engage a tree removal contractor, make sure he or she is licensed and insured. In D.C., a general business license is required for tree removal. This license can be obtained by tree removers in two categories: home improvement or general contracting. Verifying a general business license in the home improvement category can be done online at cpms.dcra.dc.gov/BBLV/default.aspx. To verify a general business license in the general contractor category, you have to call DCRA license division at 202-442-4311.


Homeowners in Virginia can check to see whether their tree removal contractor is licensed by visiting www.dpor.virginia.gov/licensees. In Maryland, tree removal is covered by rigorous tree expert licensing requirements. The list of licensed Maryland Tree Experts can be consulted at www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/tree_expert_search.asp.


Tree removal contractors should carry property, casualty and especially worker's compensation insurance. Without worker's compensation insurance, any tree removal worker injured on your property could sue you for the damages suffered in the line of work. According to the American National Standards Institute, tree removal is often the most dangerous and expensive of tree care services: "Very few industries have a fatality rate above 30 per 100,000 ... the fatality rate among police officers and detectives is about 13.5 per 100,000 ... the annual fatality rate for tree workers generally does not dip below 30 per 100,000 and may be higher in some years."


Steven Rubenstein, owner of A3 Insurance Services in Gaithersburg, said, "Property owners are responsible for protecting their property." It is essential to review your policy coverage with your insurance agent, since coverage will vary from company to company. Rubenstein added that "certain insurance companies take the position that only property owned by the insured is covered," therefore "when an insured's tree falls and destroys the neighbor's fence, the claim may be denied since the fence was not the insured's property." Unless the neighbor who suffered the damage can claim that the tree owner was negligent, he may be out of luck and may have the bear the cost, not only of the fence damage, but also for the tree removal.


However, if your neighbor knew that his tree was a hazard to persons or property and failed to take any corrective action, he may be deemed liable for the damages caused by his negligence. If your neighbor habitually ignores hazardous trees on his property and they periodically fall and damage your property, his conduct may rise to the level of legal nuisance and be actionable in court under that theory. Of course, determining when a tree is a hazard may require the expertise of an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. If you have concerns about your neighbor's tree, your best approach is to send your neighbor a letter via certified mail, return receipt requested, putting him on notice of the hazardous condition. Ideally include the certified arborist's report.


For trees that remain standing, but may need to be removed, D.C. homeowners need to be aware of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations containing the following: "Except as otherwise provided, no person or non-governmental entity shall remove a Special Tree without a Special Tree Removal Permit issued by the Urban Forestry Administration, as provided in the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002."

Special trees are defined as trees measuring more than 55 inches around at the base. This provision is strictly enforced by the District. A six-page special tree removal permit application must be completed and approved before you can remove a special tree. Trees smaller than 55 inches around can be removed in the District without a permit. Violations are punishable by fines of $100 per inch of the tree removed in violation of the regulations.


Arlington County residents may remove trees without obtaining permits, with some exceptions. Montgomery County residents with lots of 40,000 square feet or smaller may remove trees from their land unless prevented or regulated by a given municipality or homeowner's association rule. Homeowners may also prune neighbors' trees that overhang their own property, but must do so with care. If the pruning damages or kills the tree, you may be held liable. When in doubt, it is wise to consult a certified arborist to advise whether the pruning will damage the tree.


With apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see,

A poem as lovely as a tree,

except the tree once rooted next door,

that now is resting on my bedroom floor,

The tree's removal is my toil,

because its roots would not stay in the soil,

My insurance agent, I will call,

And if he won't pay what's due,

I guess I'll have to sue.


Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer in the Rockville office of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake. He conducts residential and commercial real estate settlements throughout The District of Columbia and Maryland, He is an active real estate investor, developer, landlord and lender. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel.


Jacobs can be reached at (240) 399-7891 or hjacobs@jgllaw.com.


Thanks to our friend Harvey Jacobs for allowing us to blog this article.

Posted on ActiveRain as a community service.  Character counts in Gaithersburg.

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Photograph by Roy Kelley using a Canon PowerShot G11 camera.


Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs


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Roy Kelley, Associate Broker

Realty Group Referrals (Retired from RE/MAX Realty Group)

6 Montgomery Village Ave., Suite 200

Gaithersburg, MD 20879

Main Office:  301-258-7757 (You will not reach me at this number)

Send an email message if you need my phone numbers. I will be happy to recommend a real estate professional if you are moving to the area.


Re-Blogged 3 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. C. Lloyd McKenzie 08/07/2012 03:02 PM
  2. Bob Crane 08/07/2012 03:32 PM
  3. Frank Laisch 08/07/2012 09:16 PM
Real Estate General Information
Maryland Montgomery County
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damage from falling trees

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Frank Laisch
AmTrust Title Insurance Company - Chicago, IL
"The Insurance Guy"

I hear this question almost daily, especially about the neighbors tree. Many companies are doing annual inspections(drive by) and informing homeowners to trim trees & sometimes telling them to remove them or they will get canceled

Aug 07, 2012 09:11 PM #19
Gabe Sanders
Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales - Stuart, FL
Stuart Florida Real Estate

This is excellent information, Roy.  Helps answer questions that many people may not know.

Aug 07, 2012 10:38 PM #20
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

It is always good to receive your feedback.  Thanks for taking time to comment on this post.

I really appreciate the re-blogs.  This is important information for home owners.

Daylily, Kentlands, Flowers IMG_3019 A

Photograph by Roy Kelley using a Canon PowerShot G11 camera.

Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Aug 07, 2012 11:21 PM #21
Team Honeycutt
Allen Tate - Concord, NC

This is an informative blog about a subject that we will probaly all face at one time or another. Thanks for sharing. Again, I really enjoyed your beautiful, joyful colors of the flowers. They made my day.


Aug 08, 2012 02:01 AM #22
Glenn W. Small
Bayshore Group - Traverse City, MI
Full Time Realtor w/ 21 years of experience

Wow, great information and a nice read. Thanks for sharing.

Aug 08, 2012 02:04 AM #23
Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


This is an important and highly informative article.  Our best friend got together with his neighbors who all had tree issues, and they all called a tree man and shared the costs of trimming and preventing trees from falling into each others' yards, etc.  Happiness reigns in his neighborhood. A

Aug 08, 2012 02:22 AM #24
Yolanda Cordova-Gilbert
Sitterle Homes - Richmond, TX
Sitterle Homes


     This is a great and informative article. Thanks for sharing and I love A's comment of the nieighbors calling the tree man! I hope you are having a great week!

Aug 08, 2012 02:37 AM #25
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Your feedback is always appreciated.  Yes, it is a very good idea to call in a tree man.  Some mature trees can be very dangerous.

Tangerine Gerbera Daisy, Kentlands,  Flowers IMG_3002

Photograph by Roy Kelley using a Canon PowerShot G11 camera.

Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Aug 08, 2012 02:51 AM #26
Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®
Perry Wellington Realty, Adam Conrad, Broker - Lewisburg, WV
Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate

Roy, well I know about trees falling on my proprety....our insurance did pay us a $1,000 for the trees that fell onto our property from the lot next to us.  We are responsible for the rest.  And as for our lot behind us...well they are still removing and clearing trees but we are responsible for the cost insurance will not pay anything. 

Great post Roy keeping residents apprised of tree removal.  Thanks also for the lovely photos.

Aug 08, 2012 03:06 AM #27
Cheryl Thomson, REALTOR, U.S Army-Veteran
Jobin Realty (703.216.5635) cheryltee47@gmail.com - Woodbridge, VA
Real Estate in Northern Virginia

Roy.  I actually had a tree fall that was on my property onto my neighbors during a very severe storm a couple of years ago.  It was the biggest oak tree on my land...we worked it out.

Aug 08, 2012 03:32 AM #28
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

These are the kind of questions we often don't ask - until it's too late! Our HOA is pro-active and removes any tree that might cause potential problems in the future. Better to be safe than sorry. But again, checking those regulations - before doing anything - is so critical.

Hope you're making it a great day Roy.

Aug 08, 2012 04:48 AM #29
Jennifer Chiongbian
Specializing in all types of Manhattan apts & townhouses - Manhattan, NY
Real Estate Broker - NYC

Great info on downed tree removal.  I have never experienced this as a homeowner and really know nothing about this.  Eye opening.

Aug 08, 2012 05:11 AM #30
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

It is good to receive many comments and I appreciate the re-blogs.  Every home owner should become aware of tree removal issues if there are trees near the property.

Rose of Sharon, Kentlands, Flowers IMG_3007

Photograph by Roy Kelley using a Canon PowerShot G11 camera.

Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Aug 08, 2012 05:37 AM #31
Than Maynard
Coldwell Banker Heart of Oklahoma - Purcell, OK
Broker - Licensed to List & Sell - 405-990-8862

That is why they say, "if it habgs over your property line you can cut it/trim it back."

Aug 08, 2012 08:16 AM #32
Robert Bob Gilbert
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Anderson Properties - Katy, TX
Your Katy TX ( West of Houston) Real Estate Expert


Now thisis a through and comprehenisve post about when a storm knocks down a bunch of trees. Excellent job of covering an interestin topic which all of us face in one shape or another.

Aug 09, 2012 06:44 AM #33
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Thank you very much for your comments.  Hurricane activity is a major concern on the east coast and there will surely be much damage to trees this fall.

Clematis, Kentlands, Flowers IMG_2988 A

Photograph by Roy Kelley using a Canon PowerShot G11 camera.

Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Aug 09, 2012 07:01 AM #34
Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor
Keller Williams Realty - Redlands, CA
(909) 557-6966, GREEN, SFR, CHS-Redlands/Loma Lind

Hi Roy,

I like your clever poem. I think Joyce Kilmer would smile and laugh out loud. I was on a case in court once where the lines were entangled in the electric wires so Edison came out and trimmed the tree on one side only. Of course, then the tree was lopsided and it fell over. Then the neighbor wanted this poor little old lady to pay for the damage to their home. She refused so they sued the city, the county and the neighbor (this poor lady who was just trying to prevent a fire earlier). So the jury found the lady was not at fault and blamed Edison so they had to pay to fix the house and fence. By then, the repairs had been done so they just reimbursed the owner. It is amazing how doing one simple thing snowballs sometimes.

Remember, Do not trim your tree only on one side. The attorney had called an arborist to testify and he said never trim one side...very unsafe as they found out.

Aug 12, 2012 02:21 AM #35
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Thanks, Kristin, for sharing this story.

Have an outstanding week.  All of us need to make sure that our trees are properly trimmed and removed when needed.

Aug 12, 2012 04:25 AM #36
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Los Angeles CA

I agree, tree issues are a serious business. Here in CA, the buyer buys property as is, and this includes neighbor issues. The buyer should carefully inspect not just a property but possible tree problems. 

Oct 11, 2017 09:34 PM #37
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Thank you very much for your comments on this old blog.

Oct 12, 2017 03:12 AM #38
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