Wind has wreaked havoc across Colorado over the past week, peaking at more than 100 mph in some areas across the Front Range. The powerful gusts have caused a variety of damage to trees, homes, and other buildings. Our office has been getting a lot of calls about trees falling on property owned by the Association or a neighboring Owner. So who pays for damage and/or removal costs from trees falling on neighboring property?
Generally, you should look to insurance obligations – what, if anything, was damaged? The person responsible for insuring the damaged component should file an insurance claim for repair of the damage. This doesn’t always mean it is the property owner who files the claim as a tree could, for example, hit the roof of a townhome owned by an Owner but insured by the Association. In that case, assuming the cost of repair exceeds the deductible, the Association should file a claim.
If nothing was damaged, then the person who owns the property upon which the tree fell should pay for the tree under the owner’s obligation to maintain/repair the property. And, if the owner has insurance for removal of debris and clean-up, the owner could file an insurance claim to cover the cost.
In both cases, negligence could shift liability for repairs or removal to the neighboring owner. If, for example, the association puts an owner on notice that a dead or diseased tree has to be removed, the owner fails to remove the tree, and the tree later falls on the association’s property, then the owner may be liable for repair or removal costs from the fallen tree. Otherwise, the incident is likely an “Act of God” (i.e., damage due to natural causes which could not be foreseen, or if foreseen, could not be reasonable guarded against), that should fall under the policy of the owner whose property was damaged.
Wind isn’t the only reason trees cause damage to neighboring property. In our article, What to Do When a Neighbor’s Tree Strays we explore other tree damage situations, such as encroaching tree branches and roots.