Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Tree Law": If my neightbor's tree is about to fall on my house with the next breeze, can I have it cut down?

Here’s a wrinkle that homeowners, particularly in densely packed wooded suburbs can note. In 2007, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a homeowner can sue to force a neighbor’s tree to be removed if it poses a threat of imminent harm. The story goes back to September 15, 2007 in a Washington Post story by Brigid Schulte, link here.

The law has changed in a number of states, reversing a long held trend that homeowners are absolutely responsible for insuring any damage to their own property.

The tree issue is particularly troubling in many eastern metropolitan areas with heavy suburban forestation, as trees get older and grow weaker while housing gets denser. And storms seem to increase in intensity; although I suspect that when I was growing up there were a lot more severe storms than we heard about. But the reports of damage and power outages seem to be getting worse.

Tree trimming has to be done carefully, though, or it can actually make a tree weaker and more likely to “liontail” and fall completely. It is not always a good idea to trim branches overhanging your property.

Generally, in most states, neighbors owning trees are not responsible for “acts of God” (extreme storms, tornadoes, etc) but might be responsible if they were negligent and knew that a tree was particularly weak or dying. But this whole idea gets harder to decide as storms get stronger and trees age.

Here’s a Tree Law video from “The House Detective”:

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