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Ask the Architect

A tree falls in two yards

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Q. During the recent storm, our neighbor’s tree blew down. Ironically, we had our very tall and weak-looking trees removed last spring, and while they were being cut, some twigs landed on our neighbor’s driveway, near her very expensive car. Instead of saying anything, she called the police, who told us about it. The twigs were swept up and life went on. Fast forward, her front-yard tree has crashed through the top of her car and her roof and skylights. Part of the tree took down our power lines and is sitting square in our front yard. We didn’t call the police, but are wondering, is she responsible for removing the tree section that landed in our yard, or just the part that hit her car and house? We can’t imagine tree removers would leave the half in our yard, but after the twig incident we wouldn’t put it past her.

A. Another case of defining boundaries, both mentally and physically. People have different perceptions about territory and what defines it. What seems petty to you may seem defined to your neighbor. That was probably the inspiration for poet Robert Frost’s poignant prose that “Good fences make good neighbors.” The group America sang, “You stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine; you take what you want and I’ll take the sunshine.”

There will be a lot more sunshine without that tree, but that doesn’t prevent your neighbor from acting shady, and you have good reason to suspect that they won’t do the right thing and clean up the tree’s mess. Since I’m not an attorney, I consulted people who are. The consensus is that what lands on your property is yours, basically. Otherwise you would have to show that the action was deliberate, that your neighbor planned for the tree to fall on your yard or that they were negligent in not taking steps to prevent it.

If the tree was rotted and limbs were barely hanging on, and if there was proof that your neighbor ignored documented warnings of impending collapse, there might be reason to hold them responsible. Right now they’re probably not focused on the police episode, and even though you feel a little smug about the damage they’re experiencing, it’s probably a bad idea to get into a discussion about it with them.

When the workers are clearing the tree away, it would make sense to express to them the need to remove the whole thing, not just the lower half sitting on the roof of your neighbor’s car. They will, hopefully, understand the connection from the top to the bottom of a tree. King Solomon never really intended for a baby to be cut in half, and wisdom could prevail here as well.

Also, verify if this is covered as windstorm insurance versus a hurricane. The policy may have a deductible that’s greater than the actual expense, if you have to pay the workers. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.