Explain homeowners liability when a tree falls

It depends. If you know the neighbor and are on friendly terms, talk to them. If you get no action, send them a certified letter reminding them of the issue and asking for a resolution within a date certain.

If you don’t know the property owner, let’s say it’s a corporate entity or out-of-town owner, send a certified letter to the lawful owner.

If the property is in an HOA, notify the HOA.

Many larger towns, cities, and counties have arborists who will come and look at the tree and proffer a professional opinion. Give a copy to the lot on which the tree lives.

Document whatever you do. Record a conversation with your neighbor if you talk to him or her and either live in a one-party notice state or have notified the neighbor if you are in a two-party state.

Unfortunately in our case, we’re already past the stage of friendly conversation. We tried that, offered to pay for half the removal, and got told “we’ll take care of it” yet nothing has been taken care of (last summer).

My question is what is the standard of proof. I have an estimate from an tree service/arborist saying that the tree has decay (it’s visible from the outside). We mailed this + a letter to our neighbors via certified mail and have a proof of receipt (with a scrall for their signature). Is this sufficient should the tree fall to establish liability? I don’t believe our city has their own tree inspectors. We’re in WA, which is two party notification, and I doubt he’d give me consent to record a conversation (I wouldn’t if it were me).

I don’t know the law particulars in WA, but I suspect that what you have will suffice. If you don’t have images, take many from all angles and date them now. I would also ask the arborist to document how sturdy the tree is and what the percent chance is it might fall and cause damage to you or your property.

You might want to discuss the matter with your insurance agent and let them know what you have. If they have a risk-mitigation department, they may talk to the neighbor or take other defensive action.

You could also go to court and get an order to force the neighbor to cut the tree down, but that may be costly and is not guaranteed as some courts will only award monetary damages and not an equitable remedy. It’s called a private nuisance abatement suit (or something similar in your local court).

If anything more, have the arborist send their report to the homeowner, so a third party can testify that the homeowner was notified of the condition - your certified mail proves something was sent, but not what was in the envelope. Just make sure it doesnt indicate the evaluation was a result of trespassing.


Thanks for the suggestions all! I’ll discuss with my insurance agent to see if they suggest everything else. I also have legal insurance, so can maybe get something more “official” done from them.

No trespassing issues since the tree is just over the border and there’s no fence. But that’s also why our neighbor doesn’t care - it’s much closer to our house than theirs and is leaning in our direction.

Even where there are equitable remedies, you need to be careful. The judge could order the neighbor to cut the tree down, but may also have a lot of leeway with respect to cost.

The city or county should have some sort of safety inspector. They don’t have to be a tree inspector, but you should be able to take this report from your inspector to some entity in local government - your tree inspector would probably know. At the least, this entity should contact your neighbor.

Are you worried about financial loss or safety? If safety, documenting that you told them about it doesn’t help much. If you’re worried about financial loss, what would you do if you had a loss? Would you just contact your insurance company immediately or would you sue privately? The answer to that should answer how you document it.

Something that I’d consider (and I don’t know the answer to this question): is there any risk to you to alert (or not alert) your insurance company to this potential hazard?

So does that mean they are OK with taking it down, just don’t want to pay for half? If so, and it would fall on your bedroom crushing you while you sleep, you might want to pay for it all now, and worry about collecting from them later.

Both probably. The tree is likely not going to fall on the house as its leaning over my front yard, perhaps 10 feet in front of the house. But the wind that would knock it down would be coming from a direction to push it into the house and it’s a tall tree, so it could easily damage at least part of the house.

I don’t think there’s any real risk reporting it to my insurance I already told them last summer (and my rate has not gone up), but I had presumed a formal letter would push my neighbor into taking care of it and hadn’t quite verified everything with my agent. I haven’t quite decided what to do about it, but now that it seems he won’t do anything, and since I saw this thread, I thought it worthwhile to ask for other people’s experience.

I will look into what the city can do.

Nope. Just refused all money and said he’d take care of it himself. In reality, this has to be a “joint” project, as the tree is on his property but it’s substantially easier to access from mine. Money does not seem to be the issue.

You need to post a picture of the tree. Preferably with the house in the picture, for perspective.