What to do about neighbor's unhealthy trees

7:08 PM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- What are your options if your house is hit by a neighbor's tree? Can you make them pay? What if a tree looks like it might fall onto your property, can you force a neighbor to take it down?

Real estate lawyer Brad Hutchins says times have changed. In years past insurance companies were more hesitant about paying damage claims. Neighbors would often have to hire lawyers and feud between themselves if a tree fell on their home. Now it's different-if your home is hit, your company will usually pay.

"If a tree falls and causes damage to your property it's your responsibility, it's not the neighbor's responsibility-even if it was standing on their property," Hutchins said. 

It's not like a car accident, where the companies have to figure out who is at fault. If your home is covered they'll usually fix it.

"It's best just to call your agent and ask what you need to do to get this process started," said Justin Tomczak of State Farm.

It's tough to force a neighbor to remove an unhealthy tree. You can start with a demand letter. Write your neighbor and tell them you're concerned about the tree. Tell them you plan to hold them responsible if it falls and damages your property. If the tree falls, you can take them to small claims court.

It's also important to remember that your home insurance policy likely won't cover the removal of a tree that falls and blocks your driveway or your yard. If it misses your house, you will be on the hook for hundreds if not thousands of dollars in removal costs.

That's where a demand letter is important. If your neighbor's trees fall into your yard, and you have a record showing you asked them to take care of the unhealthy trees in the past, a judge would look more favorably on your case in court.

A small claims court case could last a month or two, or stretch out to years if the neighbor wants to fight.

"If you're really concerned about a tree, your best option may be to pay for the removal yourself or split it with your neighbor," Hutchins said.

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