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jlpeifer 10-19-2011 11:33 AM

Etiquette Question: Asking Neighbors to Contribute to Tree Removal
 
About 3 years ago I bought my first house. Nice 1950's era stone rancher. Unfortunately it came with some nice, 1950's era pine trees. My guess is that the original owner planted them on the property line and never expected them to get as large as they now are. Several of the pine trees are upwards of 100ft tall!

An arborist friend looked at the trees before I bought the house. His assessment was that the trees, due to their age and height, would come down of their own accord if I didn't bring them down in a "controlled" manner first.

His assessment has started proving correct. Over the last couple of years the trees have become a problem. Large limbs have broken away under the weight of heavy snow. A month ago, during a tremendously gusty day, one of the trees started splitting about 40 feet up where there's a "Y" in the trunk.

If the trees were to fall they'd pose no danger to my house, but they could be a problem if they fell toward my neighbors' homes. Additionally, there's a power line that parallels the trees. If one of the trees fell onto the power line it'd certainly disrupt power to the same homes that might be damaged by the tree itself.

From time-to-time neighbors have mentioned (in a very nice way) that the trees have caused them inconvenience. For instance, one neighbor explained how he couldn't subscribe to satellite TV because the tree blocked the satellite signal.

I've received several quotes from tree services on the cost of bringing the trees down and now have a good quote from a reputable (and insured) tree service. It's not a terribly large sum of money... about $3,000. Even though I could pay the entire amount myself, I'm tempted to ask the neighbors to contribute because it's really them (not me) who are mostly inconvenienced by the trees.

I'm hesitant to ask because I don't really know whether making such a request would be rude.

Sooooo... I'm curious what other people think. Would I be stepping over my bounds to ask neighbors to contribute monetarily to the tree removal costs?

gatorheel 10-19-2011 01:20 PM

I just went through this myself. Legally (I know you said etiquette, but bear with me), a tree is owned by whomever owns the the property where the trunk lies. The owner of the tree is responsible for any costs and liability associated with the tree. i.e. if it falls on your neighbor's house, it's your liability. Conversely, as long as it doesn't violate any codes, you can take or leave it as you prefer and your neighbors can't force you to do anything (at least without fighting an uphill legal battle).

A tree trunk which sits on two different properties is called a "boundary tree" and is jointly owned by all property owners. This was my case-- a dead tree was in danger of falling on my garage, but I couldn't just remove it without getting the permission of the other "owner." To get to your original question, in my case, I did ask the other owner to kick in some on the tree removal since they had some buildings at risk, depending on the way the tree fell. So, they had both benefit (eliminate risk) and an ownership stake. I paid most of it since I was the one who really wanted it gone ASAP.

In your case, the neighbors get some benefit, but unless they co-own the tree I wouldn't expect them to pay. Maybe look at it this way: I was pretty happy when people moved in to the house across the street and spent every weekend for a month fixing up their landscaping. I definitely get the benefit of a prettier view, but I wouldn't have kicked in anything to help pay for it either. :no:

NancyNGA 10-19-2011 02:00 PM

I was in your neighbor's position some years ago. I offered to go halves with my neighbor to remove a 90' pine tree on her property, leaning toward my house, but she wouldn't go for it. She came back to me two years ago when she decided to get an arborist to look at the tree, and I went halves, but the guy only trimmed a few limbs off. The tree is still there. A waste of money IMO.

So I wouldn't have been offended at all, but it was a little easier to approach her from my point of view.

My understanding is the insurance on the house the tree falls on covers damages to structures, not the insurance of the tree owner. However liability could be different.

Jack Olsen 10-19-2011 02:12 PM

Let me get this straight. You own trees which pose a threat to your neighbors' property. And you're hoping your neighbors will help pay for their removal?

:no:

I mean, it can't hurt to ask. But you're the one who's liable for damage done by the trees, as others have said. They're your trees. If you do nothing and they fall over or drop limbs, that's damage that you will have to pay for.

I just paid to have four trees removed from my property. All of them came down because they were posing a threat to my neighbors' places. Anyone is welcome to disagree, but -- to me -- that's one of the costs of home ownership.

That said, I would get some more bids. My cost for all four was $550.

zircon 10-19-2011 02:24 PM

It is my understanding although I am not positive that if your tree falls on your neighbors house, you are not liable unless the neighbor has previously put you on written notice of an unsafe condition with regard to the tree. If you discuss the unsafe condition with your neighbor and then don't do anything about it, and it falls, you have a problem.

Jack Olsen 10-19-2011 03:03 PM

I did a little googling, and it looks like you're right. So long as you can show that the tree was maintained and not in danger of splitting or dropping limbs, and so long as the neighbor hasn't expressed concern, then it might not be something you're liable for.

I don't know if this would help the original poster, since at least one of the trees has already had a fracture. But thanks -- you learn something new every day.

chrisn 10-19-2011 04:54 PM

It was said originally that the power lines are close. Call the power co, they might take them down for FREE.

Problem solved:yes:

AllanJ 10-19-2011 05:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jlpeifer (Post 752062)
His assessment has started proving correct. Over the last couple of years the trees have become a problem. Large limbs have broken away under the weight of heavy snow. A month ago, during a tremendously gusty day, one of the trees started splitting about 40 feet up where there's a "Y" in the trunk.

If the trees were to fall they'd pose no danger to my house, but they could be a problem if they fell toward my neighbors' homes. Additionally, there's a power line that parallels the trees. If one of the trees fell onto the power line it'd certainly disrupt power to the same homes that might be damaged by the tree itself.

From time-to-time neighbors have mentioned (in a very nice way) that the trees have caused them inconvenience. For instance, one neighbor explained how he couldn't subscribe to satellite TV because the tree blocked the satellite signal.

I've received several quotes from tree services on the cost of bringing the trees down and now have a good quote from a reputable (and insured) tree service. It's not a terribly large sum of money... about $3,000. Even though I could pay the entire amount myself, I'm tempted to ask the neighbors to contribute because it's really them (not me) who are mostly inconvenienced by the trees.?

Rather than ask the neighbors to contribute you could instead give them permission to take the trees down themselves, bringing in any needed trucks and equipment from their side. But contact your insurance company first to see if there could be any adverse consequences or liability; this varies depending on what state you live in.

If a neighbor's (or a boundary) tree extends over your property and causes inconvenience then in most states you can remove the limbs over your property but you would be responsible for the tree if you kill it.

YOu have no obligation to pay the cost of removing a healthy and stable tree for the convenience of the power company or the satellite reception of a neighbor.

dave11 10-19-2011 09:14 PM

Not sure where people are getting the idea you have any liability at all. In the states I've lived in, a tree falling is considered an Act of God, and you are not liable for it. I recall being told it had nothing to do with whether the tree was a risk or just a nuisance. This came from several local attorneys.

The repair and clean up of a fallen tree defaults to whoever's property it fell on, at least in Florida and PA.

I know, because I've tried to get neighbors to remove trees, in both states.

gatorheel 10-19-2011 09:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dave11 (Post 752450)
Not sure where people are getting the idea you have any liability at all. In the states I've lived in, a tree falling is considered an Act of God, and you are not liable for it. I recall being told it had nothing to do with whether the tree was a risk or just a nuisance. This came from several local attorneys.

The repair and clean up of a fallen tree defaults to whoever's property it fell on, at least in Florida and PA.

I know, because I've tried to get neighbors to remove trees, in both states.

I found this book and this PDF to be a useful when I was researching my issue. PA has one bit of case law specifically called out in the PDF. IANAL, but they're both written pretty plainly and seem to support the idea that if you know of a hazardous tree on your property you have a duty to eliminate the hazard (or take the liability if it damages another person or their property). Of course, it's up to the other guy's attorney to prove that you knew or should have known of the hazard.

My situation was a little murkier. Since *I* was also an owner of the tree, I shared the risk if the tree fell and damaged her property even if she refused to help pay to remove it. In the end, we came to an agreement I was happy with, no lawyers involved, so it all worked out. Since the tree was completely dead, it was actually also in violation of a city ordinance, so that was my backup plan-- they could have compelled us to remove the tree.

Matt

jlpeifer 10-20-2011 07:08 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by chrisn (Post 752221)
It was said originally that the power lines are close. Call the power co, they might take them down for FREE.

Problem solved:yes:

Good idea. I thought of that too and called the power company several months ago. They informed me that this was a "secondary" power line. I'm not entirely sure that I understand the logic, but the line doesn't run along a street. It runs down the property lines of the back yards of all the neighbors. The power company said they'd be glad to cut the power whenever I wanted to cut the trees, but they said the trees were my responsibility.

jlpeifer 10-20-2011 07:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gatorheel (Post 752477)
I found this book and this PDF to be a useful when I was researching my issue. PA has one bit of case law specifically called out in the PDF.

Thanks for sharing those resources. After scanning the info, and after reading several of the posts here, I called the arborist and asked him to do the work as soon as possible.

jlpeifer 10-20-2011 07:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jack Olsen (Post 752103)

That said, I would get some more bids. My cost for all four was $550.

I should've been more clear on that number. There are actually 2 sets of boundary trees that I want to have removed. The $3K price-tag was a combination quote... $1.8K for the five huge pines that are my primary concern, and $1.2K for another set of a dozen scraggly cedars (ones that don't pose any danger to property).

The $1.8K quote includes $450 to get them on the ground and $1,350 to dispose of all the waste.

I'm completely fine with the numbers being quoted. The guy is an experienced arborist who is insured. My understanding is that insurance fees are one of an arborists biggest expense items.

After looking at the trees and realizing the sheer volume of wood they contain, I estimated that it'd take me several days to clean up the resulting mess if I just had him bring them down. I'd have to make about 10 trips to my area mulching center using my single-axle trailer to haul away the trunks (they're 24" to 30" in diameter). I'd also have to rent an industrial-sized wood chipper at rate of around $300/day.

"Murphy" :jester: would probably kick in and complicate matters... I'd get the 3 ton chipper stuck in my yard, or my trailer would lose a wheel, etc etc etc.

If this guy can get all the material out of my yard for $1,350 (plus the $450 to cut them down safely) he's welcome to it.

I guess all situations are different.

Msradell 10-20-2011 09:39 AM

Most homeowners insurance policies are very clear on the issue of falling trees. If it's alive any damage is covered by the policy of the home where that the damage occurred. It's a tree is dead is the responsibility of the person whose property the tree is on and the insurance company may not cover the damage.

chrisn 10-20-2011 04:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jlpeifer (Post 752630)
I should've been more clear on that number. There are actually 2 sets of boundary trees that I want to have removed. The $3K price-tag was a combination quote... $1.8K for the five huge pines that are my primary concern, and $1.2K for another set of a dozen scraggly cedars (ones that don't pose any danger to property).

The $1.8K quote includes $450 to get them on the ground and $1,350 to dispose of all the waste.

I'm completely fine with the numbers being quoted. The guy is an experienced arborist who is insured. My understanding is that insurance fees are one of an arborists biggest expense items.

After looking at the trees and realizing the sheer volume of wood they contain, I estimated that it'd take me several days to clean up the resulting mess if I just had him bring them down. I'd have to make about 10 trips to my area mulching center using my single-axle trailer to haul away the trunks (they're 24" to 30" in diameter). I'd also have to rent an industrial-sized wood chipper at rate of around $300/day.

"Murphy" :jester: would probably kick in and complicate matters... I'd get the 3 ton chipper stuck in my yard, or my trailer would lose a wheel, etc etc etc.

If this guy can get all the material out of my yard for $1,350 (plus the $450 to cut them down safely) he's welcome to it.

I guess all situations are different.

I was in the business for almost 20 years and it sounds like a good deal to me:yes:. The power company is probably screwing you but what can you do:huh:


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