5 On Your Side

Risks Loom in Dead Trees' Limbs

Posted November 27, 2007
Updated November 29, 2007

— Hurricanes, high winds, and ice storms: all can do damage, especially when trees topple during those events.

Who's responsible, though, when a dead tree simply begins to give in to gravity, and is there anything you can do to protect yourself? A viewer who is in the middle of that debate called 5 On Your Side for help.

Near Charles Prather’s home is a huge oak tree that looks like it's part of a haunted house.

The dead tree drops large limbs without warning. The limbs litter his back yard. One fell on his car.

More huge limbs hang over his house.

“I just want the safety issue to be taken care of,” Prather said.

The tree is on his neighbor’s property. He asked her to have it taken down and followed up with a certified letter. When she didn't do what he asked, he called the City of Raleigh, but officials told him they cannot force someone to remove a tree.

“If you have tall grass in your yard, they'll fine you for that and that's not a safety hazard. But they can't make someone take down a tree like this that really is a huge safety hazard?” Prather said.

There's no doubt that a dead tree can be a safety issue and, potentially, a legal issue.

"Any tree removal that can be done to protect liability makes sense," said attorney Laurie Howell, who specializes in real estate law.

Howell said she hears about these types of situations all the time, and it's usually much less costly for a tree owner to go ahead and remove it than to deal with problems later if something bad happens.

“Most dead trees can be removed for $500 to $1,000 dollars. That's most people's (insurance) deductible – not to mention other potential liability. If the tree falls and hits a structure or hurts an individual, can you imagine?” the lawyer said.

“I'm frustrated that people have told me that she's liable for damages, but you can't you know – if a branch comes through and hits me and injures me, money doesn't put me back together,” Prather said. "It's just very frustrating."

When 5 on Your Side contacted Prather’s neighbor to get her side of the story, she hung up on them.

Howell said that the best way to resolve a dispute like this is often for the neighbor who’s worried about the tree to pay half the cost – despite having no responsibility – just to avoid having any property damaged or anyone hurt.

The bottom line: If your neighbor’s tree is clearly dead or a danger to your property, and you notify the owner by certified letter of the danger, if that tree later falls and does damage to your property, it is the tree owner’s responsibility to pay for that damage.

However, if your neighbor's perfectly healthy, non-leaning tree, falls on your house during a storm, the damage that happens is your responsibility to clean up and repair.


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  • Travised Nov 29, 2007

    We had a old tree that was starting to have issues at the base. The problem was the City had installed new posts only a foot or 18 inches away for one, and the tree was on the corner of our lot, on an embankment. IF we took it down it would be a timely project and we'd have to work with the city; and it would also do possible damage to the neighboring property when the trunk fell when cut with a fence and porch in the fall zone.

    We decided after consulting with an arborist (that right?) that it was best to leave it for the time being. Ended up selling the property shortly so it was out of our hands.

    I feel however DEAD LIMBS are a liability. If they are hanging non connected the owner needs to take care of it. Same issue with dead trees near property lines. Some cities are more proactive than others with enforcement.

  • gopanthers Nov 29, 2007

    anarchist - that fridge story must be a very touchy story/subject to not allow comments on it. Can you imagine the hate and debate it would cause with the posters. LOL

  • Made In USA Nov 28, 2007

    I learn something every day. Didn't know that I would have to pay for damages a neighbor's tree might do to me or my house. Hmmmm.

  • kittiboo Nov 28, 2007

    Years ago I was sitting at a stoplight in Chapel Hill and a big dead tree fell on my car!! Besides me almost having a heart attack, the tree did $1400 damage to my brand-new car's hood and front end- luckily no one was hurt. It was a perfectly calm day (no wind or storms).
    A cop happened to be sitting at the light near me and saw the whole incident- she filed a report, investigated and found the tree to be on a bank's property. She went so far as to contact the property owner, and he IMMEDIATELY called me and said everything would be taken care of- for me to get an estimate and send it to him and his insurance (or he himself) would pay for the repairs, since the tree was dead and should have been removed. He was awesome about it, and my car was fixed within days. I'm so lucky he was willing to volunteer to do the right thing (I was a poor college student) and that the cop was so helpful.
    I hope this man gets his neighbor to cut down the tree before HE has a bad incident!

  • denverbob Nov 28, 2007

    If there are limbs hanging over your property, being alive or dead limbs, you have the right to cut them. I would have the limbs cut off, you do not have to wait for the owner of the tree to do it, you can just do it yourself. Stop making an issue of it and get a saw

  • HughBlueJorgan Nov 28, 2007

    diamondrun1966..."if you have a house you have to have insurance." No you do not have to have insurance if you own the house free and clear.

  • julianne Nov 28, 2007

    DiamondRun1966, how can you say that he's harassing the single woman? His car has had damage, he can't park in his own driveway, can't let his kids/pets in his own backyard... and he can't take the tree down because it's not his. A tree company won't remove a tree from a property unless the property owner consents, and she wouldn't even talk to him or to the news crew! I understand his frustration.

  • silverflash Nov 28, 2007

    ummm, if the tree has limbs HANGING over his property, can't he at least just cut those limbs up to where the property line is??? Isn't the tree limb infringing upon the others property rights since it is above the property of another? If it we me, I would go out and cut the offending limbs down with a chainsaw up to the property line. It is like this, say if the limb is coming over above your property and is 8 feet high. You want to build a 9ftp high fence, can you? heck yeah, chop chop....it's YOUR property.... So, this guy should just prune back the offending limb and call it done...

  • diamondrun1966 Nov 28, 2007

    houndie...if you have a house you have to have insurance. The owner has given the insurance information to this person. This person had a problem with this tree prior to purchasing the house so he should have kept looking. All quotes to remove the tree have been in the excess of 3500.00, so if there is someone who can remove it for 500.00 they should contact the owner. I find it funny that this information was not included in the story...seems a little one sided to me. This person is simply harassing this single woman as to intimidate her and it doesn't seem to be working so now 5 on your side was his last bet. If it is a legal matter then why doesn't he let the lawyers handle it as he has threatened? Big Man in the neighborhood.

  • sunshine Nov 28, 2007

    I'm having this problem. There is a huge oak tree on the property next to mine. It has dropped several large limbs in the past couple of years--one which created a 3 foot crater in my yard, and two others that have torn down a couple of areas of my chain link fence over the past year or so. Problem is, I have no idea who owns that property. It is a vacant/wooded parcel that has been sold w/n the past 6 months. I don't even know who the previous owner was.