Question: My neighbor’s tree fell in my backyard. I want him to remove it or pay for its removal. He said no. What can I do?
A friend sums this situation up well: if a tree falls on your property, you own it. We had this happen at our home. A large tree fell in my backyard and the tree belonged to my neighbor. It was an otherwise healthy tree. Our neighbor bore no legal obligation to remove the tree or to pay for the removal. He put a claim in with his insurance company and they refused to pay because he had no legal obligation to pay.
The law generally looks on a falling tree as an act of nature. No one is responsible for an act of nature. This condition changes if your neighbor had prior notice that the tree was likely to fall. Then, falling to act by removing, strengthen or trimming the tree, can qualify as negligence and then you can collect damages.
How can you determine if your neighbor was put on notice about the tree that fell? There are two types of notice: actual and constructive. Actual notice would mean someone with some authority told your neighbor about the hazard posed by the tree. Maybe you spoke to your neighbor about it and had an arborist prepare a report showing that the tree was a hazard. Maybe another neighbor gave him a similar written notice. Maybe your town sent him a notice about the tree. All those actions would constitute actual notice.
Constructive notice is more nebulous. Let’s say that this tree as dead and badly leaning so that anyone who saw it would know it was a hazard. If you have photographs to show the condition of the tree, you might argue that your neighbor had seen the tree ‘s condition and if should have known that the tree would fall unless he took action.
The courts will look to see if your neighbor acted reasonably. If he had notice and failed to act, that would be a form of negligence and he could be held liable for the subsequent damage.
What to do? File a claim with your homeowner’s insurance and they pursue your neighbor for the money. Or you can pursue him on your own. Give him a written notice about the damage and the compensation you seek, provide back up in the form of photographs and receipts. If he does not pay, then you could take him to court.