Not all damage to a home happens due to a natural disaster. Sometimes these things can be slow-moving and avoidable.
Take, for instance, a neighbor’s dead tree poised to crash through your fence and fall onto your roof.
That’s the situation that a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently found himself in.
What Should I Do If My Neighbor’s Tree Is About To Smash My Roof and Fence?
What do I do if my neighbor’s tree appears ready to topple into my property?
That’s what a listener asked Clark on the May 4 podcast episode.
Asked Dave in Florida: “My neighbor has a rental that has a dead tree leaning over toward my house, ready to take out my fence and roof. The neighbor lives out of state and I do not know them.
“What steps can I take to protect myself documentation-wise if the worst happens? Take pics, and send a certified letter asking him to take it down? I’d love for him to do the right thing and pay to remove the tree himself but can’t assume this will happen.”
Dave has the right idea. In this case, he needs to document, document, document. Otherwise, if that tree comes down via a means that may seem natural, he could be responsible for any damage to his property.
“Gosh, Dave, you are so on the right wavelength. You must document that the tree is dead or diseased. Either condition,” Clark says.
“Because the way it works, I think everywhere in America, is that if a tree appears to be healthy, it’s on your neighbor’s property, storm knocks that tree down, you’re responsible for the damage on your side of the property line.”
How Do You Document That Your Neighbor’s Tree Is Dead or Diseased?
You must document that your neighbor’s tree is visibly diseased or dead.
“Then the neighbor is liable because they’ve been negligent for the damage that occurs to your house and your property that would normally be your problem,” Clark says.
Clark prescribes three steps.
1. Take pictures. Use your smartphone. The photos will automatically get time-stamped on your phone. Make sure to clearly capture visual evidence that there’s something wrong with the tree.
2. Check with the neighbors. The best solution is for your absentee neighbor to take care of the tree on their own. Consider trying to contact them before taking the next step.
“You may have a neighbor near you who knows this individual. They may be a very nice, honorable person,” Clark says. “You may be able to, with the neighbor’s help, reach this individual. Because a certified letter by its nature is never a friendly thing. If you’re going to engage in unfriendly communication, that should be after you have tried the other route.”
3. Mail a certified letter. Certified letters can be critically helpful in legal matters. Send one to the address where you believe the owner of the property who lives out of state resides.
“Failing to be able to contact this person, you absolutely send the certified letter,” Clark says. “Because then, not only do you have proof of the problem, you have proof that you have properly notified this individual. And then it’s up to them if they’re going to leave you in harm’s way and harm their wallet in the future.”
Why It Matters That Your Neighbor’s Tree Sits in Florida
This neighbor’s tree resides in Florida. Each state has its own set of laws and insurance peculiarities.
Hurricane Ian in 2022 was the latest devastating blow. But actuaries did not properly foresee the risk of such a continually large bill from claims.
“You have no idea what kind of coverage this individual has next door. They may not be carrying insurance on the property if they own it mortgage-free,” Clark says.
“So everything you can do upfront is really important to protect yourself, your family and your wallet. Your mindset is right to take these steps and document now.”
Dave is already on the right track. He should take pictures of his neighbor’s tree and, if necessary, send the homeowner a certified letter.
However, if it’s at all possible to reach this person first, explain your concerns and ask for their help in removing the tree, it may be the best solution for everyone.