Because he’s our tree warden, many Westporters assume Bruce Lindsay controls every tree in town.
Nope. According to state statute, tree wardens control only “trees (and shrubs) on public road or grounds.”
So Lindsay oversees approximately 120 miles of town-owned roads and rights of way. He also works with Parks and Rec and the Board of Education on their properties as needed.
Lindsay does not manage trees on private property, private roads and driveways, state roads, state parks, commercial property or non-profit private lands.
So what happens when a tree falls from one private property onto another? Who’s responsible for clean-up and damage?
Lindsay says that’s usually a matter of common law (case law), not statute. The process falls under the “act of God” rules. The affected neighbor pays for his own property damage — including tree removal, clean-up and related expenses.
Lindsay emphasizes: “The homeowner has no duty to his neighbors for property damage resulting from trees and branches falling from the homeowner’s property, especially when due to a true ‘act of God’ such as a severe wind, rain or snow.”
However, he adds — citing the state Office of Legislative Research — “as a general rule under the common law, a property owner has a duty to maintain the trees on his or her property in a way that prevents them from harming a neighbor’s property.
“If the property owner knows, or reasonably should know, that a defect in the trees (e.g., rot) poses an unreasonable danger to others, the owner must eliminate the danger. If the owner does not, he or she may be liable for the damage the tree causes.”
Lindsay often fields calls from residents who say that a neighbor’s dead trees hang over their yard, yet nothing is being done about them. That’s when it’s time to send a certified letter, and ask for relief in 30 days.
However, Lindsay emphasizes that no law requires this. Still, he says, it helps to have your complaint in writing.
Lindsay recommends that a homeowner hire an arborist to perform a ground-level assessment of surrounding trees, and issue a report of the findings. There may be a small fee associated with this assessment, depending on the company and intent to perform work.
But it’s the right — and neighborly — thing to do.