Tree Falls On Property Line: Who Pays? Who Picks Up the Pieces?

Who pays depends on numerous factors.

A fallen tree is pushing down power lines and blocking the entire street of a small town after a storm.
Image: Alex Potemkin/getty

When a neighbor’s tree falls over your property line, yell TIMBER, then call your insurance company. Homeowners policies cover tree damage caused by perils like wind and winter storms.

Most policies cover hauling away tree debris if the mess is associated with house damage; some will cover cleanup even if no structures were harmed.

When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line under certain conditions. If you can point to evidence that you've asked your neighbor to remove a dead, diseased, or damaged tree for years, you may be able to prove liability. You could strengthen your case if you documented proof of your attempts.

Before a Tree Falls

Write a letter to your neighbor before their dead, diseased, or listing tree falls through your roof or over your property line.

The letter should include:

  • A description of the problem
  • Photographs
  • A request for action
  • Attorney letterhead -- not necessary but indicates you mean business

Trim Their Trees

If the limbs of a tree hang over your property line, you may trim the branches up to the property line, but not cut down the entire tree. If a tree dies after your little pruning, the neighbor can pursue a claim against you in civil or small claims court. Depending on your state laws, your neighbor may have to prove the damage was deliberate or caused by negligence, but may also be able to recover up to three times the value of the tree. 

Before you cut, tell your neighbors what you intend to do to protect your property. They may offer to trim the whole tree instead of risking your half-oaked job.

Your Tree Falls

It’s always a good idea to take care of your big and beautiful trees, and keep receipts for trimmings and other care. 

But if your tree falls over a neighbor’s property line, do nothing until their insurance company contacts you. You may not be liable unless you knew or should have known the tree was in a dangerous condition.  If you pruned a tree or shored up trunks to prevent problems, gather your receipts to prove your diligence.

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Ann Cochran
Ann Cochran

Ann Cochran has written about home improvement and design trends for Washingtonian, Home Improvement, and Bethesda Magazine.