5 On Your Side

Golf Club Neighbor Calls Five On Your Side About Dead Tree

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RALEIGH, N.C. — When a tree falls on your house from your neighbor's property, who is responsible? The short answer. It depends.

If a perfectly healthy tree happens to fall in a storm, then you have to pay for your own damage.

But if a reasonable person can look at a tree and see that it is a danger, and if the tree owner knows about it and then it falls, then the tree owner is responsible. In this case, it is the danger that is in dispute.

Joe Johnston says that the 80-foot tree, which is on the property of Hedingham Golf Club, stands only about 50 feet from his house. It was struck by lightning three years ago. Now, many limbs are gone and bark is falling off of it.

Last January, Johnston called Hedingham to see about getting the tree cut down. In March, a course representative went out to look at it.

"They didn't think it was any danger of falling and they were not willing to do anything," Johnston said.

But the golf club told Johnston that he could cut it down and that it would have the debris removed.

Johnston thought that was too risky.

"It's their tree, their property," he said. "And I feel like it's their hazard too."

After months of more e-mails, the course superintendent agreed to cut down the tree next "January or February."

"My feeling on it is if you're willing to cut it down in January or February, why not cut it down now?" Johnston said.

So, Johnston called Five On Your Side.

Jule Smith, who runs Hedingham Golf Club, says he saves projects, such as cutting down the tree near Johnston's property, for when the season slows so that grounds crews have something to do.

"We definitely want to help Mr. Johnston with his request," Smith said.

Smith said he is not worried that the tree will fall.

"We make the best decisions we can and we really feel like that tree is sturdy and is not going anywhere and we'll cut it down as soon as our crews get a chance to do it," Smith said.

He now says that should be in October or November. He also says that he is willing to take on the liability if the tree does fall and causes damage before a crew can get it cut down.

Johnston says he is OK with that time frame, and just hopes the tree is too.

For those people who may be in a similar situation, Five On Your Side recommends sending a certified letter to your neighbor. That way, neighbors cannot say they did not know about your concern. Taking photos are also a good idea.

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