Government and Law

Tree damage can be thorny issue for neighbors

Bill addresses responsibility for damage when tree falls on neighbor’s property.

September 13, 2019
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Tree Damage
Repairs resulting from damage when a tree falling from one neighbor’s property onto another’s currently is the responsibility of the affected property owner. Courtesy iStock

An old philosophical question asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

But a more practical question today might be: “If your neighbor’s tree falls on your roof, who is responsible for the damage?”

A new House bill tries to answer that question.

It would make the owner of the property where the tree was growing responsible for any damage “caused by any part of the tree falling on the adjacent property, regardless of whether the tree falling was an act of God,” such as heavy winds or lightning.

“Currently, if a neighbor’s tree falls in your yard and smashes your fence, you as an innocent homeowner are liable, and this isn’t right,” said Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, the lead sponsor of the proposal.

That may mean the innocent neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance policy may cover the damage, but a claim could lead to higher insurance premiums, he said.

Berman said he has dealt with the question as a homeowners association president and as a lawyer, but the issue arose again recently with an email from a constituent.

“I contend, and my constituent said, a lot of times it is the negligence of the tree owner to properly maintain it and trim the branches,” Berman said, adding that there should be “some personal responsibility.”

He noted that a 1909 state law imposes a duty on owners to remove trees that fall on a highway, but that law says nothing about trees falling on neighbors’ property.

“We need a law on the books saying who is responsible. A lot of times it ends up with neighbor disputes,” Berman said.

The cosponsors are Reps. Alex Garza, D-Taylor, Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, and Douglas Wozniak, R-Shelby Township.

The bill is pending in the House Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee.

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