5 On Your Side

If a tree falls on your house, who is responsible?

Posted March 2, 2010
Updated March 4, 2010

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— During a recent wind storm, a 70-foot tall tree fell onto Mike Walters’ home in Cary.

“It went through my master bedroom wall and basically landed on my bed, right where my wife sleeps,” he said.

The tree fell from property owned by the local homeowners association.

Laws define who pays for damage from trees Laws define who pays for damage from trees

Walters sought help from the HOA, only to be referred to an insurance company that denied his claim.

The homeowners association said Walters did not tell them he was concerned about the tree. Walters said he wasn’t concerned about it because he never thought the seemingly healthy, green tree was going to fall.

Under state law, if a healthy tree that does not appear to be a danger falls, the person who sustains the damage has to pay for it, because it is considered an act of nature.

The owner of an obviously dead or dying tree, one that a reasonable person would presume is a risk, can be held responsible for damage caused when it falls if he is aware of that potential.

Anyone who sees a tree that may be in danger of falling should take photos and notify the property owner by certified letter immediately. This will help if the tree does fall and damage property. The letter and photos will help prove the property owners were aware and should have taken action.

Without documentation, property owners can assert they were not aware their tree was in bad shape, and can be absolved of responsibility.

Knowing the law doesn't make Walters any happier about his damage, but it does change the way he looks at trees.

“I’m gonna be proactive. I'm gonna let everybody know,” he said. “If it comes down on your house and you haven't told them, then they're not gonna help you.”

Ideally, experts say, it is best to work something out with your neighbor before something like this happens.

If that doesn't work, you generally can't make your neighbor take down a potentially dangerous tree in advance.

People should check with their local homeowners association or town to find out what its rules are concerning potentially dangerous trees.

18 Comments

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  • hazeyc Mar 5, 12:30 p.m.

    "The insurance companies are aware of this and a tree falling on your house is covered, not matter who's tree it is."

    We all went through this during Fran. This guy must have moved here since then. As long as the insurance companies have it all sorted out I'm fine with it.

    I just experienced this last year where my tree went into the neighbor's yard due to a really bad thunderstorm. Their insurance paid for the tree from the fence line and into their property. Mine up to my fence line.

    Unfortunatly, they had a car stored in the back yard without comprehensive insurance and that damage was not covered by their car or home insurance.

  • zamboniman Mar 4, 6:20 p.m.

    We have many many trees on our property. We moved in just three days before Fran hit, we were supposed to close on that Friday and Fran hit on Thursday. There were at least twelve trees blown down, thankfully none did any damage to our property or the neighbors. I called our attorney, he asked if we closed yet, we told him no. He said the builder was responsible for the clean up. Talk about a mad builder, he had to come over that day and clear the trees from the drive way and shore up the one that was just inches from toppling on the house. Wow was he mad.

  • ncmedic201 Mar 4, 5:44 p.m.

    It really isn't a stupid law. It makes perfect sense. If an act of nature occurs then your insurance covers it. If your neighbors tree is dead and falls on your house that is different because then it is negligence on their part for not taking care of it.

  • madpoiuyt Mar 4, 3:40 p.m.

    What if no one is there to hear it fall?

  • no contest Mar 3, 7:40 p.m.

    When my house was being built, the builder did not in any way want to remove two large pine trees that I knew would damage my home during a storm or under the weight of ice. Wind almost always blows west to east and I could see the problem. The HOA was Talis and they also denied me the permission to remove the trees. I then showed the HOA, Talis, and the builder a letter stating my request and their refusal and said I would mail it to them certified mail. I typed the letter as a bluff thinking I would need to call a lawyer next. To my surprise I drove by the lot 2 days later and the trees were gone. I was going to take photos and start documenting the threat.

  • seeingthru Mar 3, 3:47 p.m.

    my neighbour has a tree very close to our house--almost on property line I am told that if their tree fall on my house my insurance is obliged ti cover repaiors, is this right? anyone?

  • Halyard Mar 3, 2:55 p.m.

    We had a large oak tree to fall in our neighbor's back yard doing damage to their storage bldg, swing set, dog house/pen & four pine trees. Their insurance paid for their damage & we were responsible for what was left of the oak tree/stump etc. in our yard.

  • ncsqrl Mar 3, 2:43 p.m.

    (Baba Booey said: All trees have the potential to fall. Quickly report all trees to your HOA!) HA!! I agree! what a stupid law. so sorry for this guy...the HOA insurance should have to cover this.

  • JayJay Mar 3, 2:43 p.m.

    The tree falling was an act of nature and could not be forseen. In NC, that makes the damage the responsibility of the person that owns the damaged property. The insurance copanies are aware of this and a tree falling on your house is covered, not matter who's tree it is. If the tree was obviously going to fall, ie unquestionably dead, then the owner of the tree can be held responsible. Unhealthy is a lot harder to win. I saw unhealthy trees make it through Fran while perfecty healthy trees right next to them were knocked down.

    For the person walking on the sidewalk, their health insurance is responsible. To get the hoa to be held responsible would have to be done in civil court. The burden of proof would be on the person hit.

  • toffton Mar 3, 2:19 p.m.

    My question is who be responsible if it fell and hit a person? Just someone walking down the street or driving in their care. I bet they could sue the HOA then...

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