Trees and You

In National, we cherish our trees. Our architectural guidelines remind us “that upland lots should preserve the Longleaf Pine and wire grass plant community as much as reasonable” and that even the scrub oaks which are naturally occurring “… should be selectively saved based on form and location.”

The American poet, Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), wrote “I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” However, when a tree falls on your lot from your neighbor’s, Kilmer’s poem isn’t the first thing you think of.

After the deleted expletive, what should be your first thoughts? See the answer under “Trees and You.”

Trees and You
When a tree on your neighbor’s lot comes crashing down on yours, your first thoughts should’ve been, was that tree shaky? Did I notify him in writing that I considered it a hazard that should be removed before it falls? And, did I keep a copy of my certified letter and its return receipt? Or my email letter and the email chain? If you didn’t, what could have been his problem is likely going to be yours.
When it comes to trees, North Carolina has plenty of them. In the East, principally several varieties of pine, chief among them our famous Longleaf Pines. Damage claims involving fallen trees are frequently treated differently among the states. Sometimes different municipalities within a state, especially cities, can have different rules.

In North Carolina a “negligence-like” standard prevails to determine liability in such matters. That means your neighbor must be notified prior to the event that the tree was damaged or in some way susceptible to falling on your property -and- be given a reasonable period of time to address the problem. If he just owns an undeveloped lot next to you, he has no obligation to visit the site and check the condition of the trees.

Say there’s a bad storm one night. Upon awakening you find your neighbor’s large, healthy and formerly upright 60 foot Longleaf Pine on your lawn. The top 10 feet have smashed through your garage roof, totaling the car. (You and your wife are heavy sleepers.) Is your neighbor responsible?

You know what’s coming. The tree was healthy. You had no reason to give notice to your neighbor. He had no knowledge that it might come down. What happened can best be viewed as “an act of God.” As citizens of North Carolina, you each owe the other a duty of “reasonable care.” You don’t insure each other. That’s what you buy insurance for. Your neighbor has no liability.

Wait! Doesn’t he at least have to remove the tree? It’s his. True, but he has no obligation to do that. You can cut off the part that’s on your property and take it away. Your consolation is you’re up-to-date on your homeowners and automobile policies. They’ll cover reconstruction of your home and repair or replacement of your vehicle, minus the deductibles. Hold on! Doesn’t he at least have to pay the deductibles? See the last sentence in the paragraph above.

This isn’t a real case. If it were, you’d need to consult a North Carolina lawyer versed in such matters. Cases vary, dependent upon their facts. The purpose of this vignette is to alert you to the general rules. Just because your neighbor’s tree winds up on your lawn and damages your property doesn’t mean it’s his responsibility.

There’s also a practical lesson. A problem tree is best handled by a friendly conversation between neighbors, before sending a notice. Neither of you should want to go through the turmoil of a crash landing. Better to approach your neighbor, express your concerns and offer to pay half the cost of a professional evaluation, and half of the removal, if recommended. You get to avoid the deductibles in the imagined scenario, and you both get peace of mind.

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