Property

Q&A on real estate: who is responsible for property damage caused by the neighbour’s tree?

Q: My neighbor has a large tree against our fence with branches hanging down on our side of the property line. A storm toppled the tree, damaging the corner of our roof and destroying our pool pump. Who is responsible for the damage? Who is responsible for removing the fallen tree? —Tomas

A: I receive many questions about trees each fall, which gives me a great opportunity to review the law in my annual tree column.

When it comes to trees crossing a property line, the law requires the affected owner to protect their property by responsibly pruning the parts of the tree crossing the boundary. However, pruning should be done carefully so as not to injure the tree.

Because it is the responsibility of the affected homeowner to protect their property, if a healthy tree falls or loses a branch during a storm, the responsibility for repair will fall to the neighbor whose property was damaged.

That said, the law will not protect a tree owner who does not maintain his tree. If the tree that fell on your property was in poor health, your neighbor who owned the damaged tree would be liable to pay for repairs to your property.

If the tree is healthy, you will need to have it removed. If not, it would be your neighbor’s responsibility.

Either way, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to minimize the damage, such as tarping your roof.

Because your homeowner’s insurance policy may provide protection for this type of storm damage, you should speak with your agent and file a claim.

If your insurance company pays for the repairs, they will want the right to seek reimbursement from your neighbor and may attempt to recover from them the damage caused by an unhealthy tree. This is called “subrogation” and is a right granted to insurance companies in most, if not all, of the insurance policies I have reviewed.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and Certified Real Estate Lawyer by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Florida. He is president of the real estate section of the Broward County Bar Association and co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He consults frequently on general real estate issues and trends in Florida with various companies across the country. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.