Tag Archives: tree damage

[OPINION] Chop Down Current Tree Law

In the wake of last month’s storms — Isaias and an unnamed one that caused massive damage — many Westporters learned that if a neighbor’s tree lands on your property (or house), and you have not warned him or her about the danger, you are responsible for removing it.

And for repairing any damage on your property.

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Marliese Aguele writes:

The law that requires a neighbor to remove and pay for a fallen tree is most unfair. It puts the burden and expense on somebody else.

No more free rides. I wanat the law be changed immediately. Owners make no effort to pay, or offer any help. This is unacceptable to a neighbor, who takes care by trimming his own trees.

Because residents know they are not liable to pay for the removal of their fallen trees on the neighbor’s property, they have no incentive to take care of them.

Falling trees do not respect property lines.(Photo/John Kantor)

I have had personal experience. A friend lives in a small house near the beach, with a neighbor located on an elevated property behind him. She has refused for over 20 years to trim her tree. It gets larger every year. He is struggling financially. He constantly worries that should the huge tree fall, his house and cars will be destroyed, and maybe the lives of his family.

A property owner must be responsible to trim his trees regularly to avoid unfair arboreal problems, making it easier for the town to deal with overgrown branches entangled in communication and electric power lines, incurring major expenses to the town and heavy losses to its citizens.

With predictions of more frequent storms in the future, it is in the best interest for citizens to do their share, helping with an already stressed town budget.

I have decided, at great expense, to have several tall trees removed. I can no longer live with the fear, and alone, worrying if my trees should fall and destroy my home, or were to fall on a neighbor’s house.

It is time to change the law. Someone who owns a tree should be responsible for removing the debris, and pay for all damage caused to a neighbor’s property.

If A Tree Falls…

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?

Negligence? Or act of God?

Negligence? Or act of God?

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.”

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

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.