Neighbor's Tree Fell on the Fence of My Rental Property

18 Replies

Hey everybody,

I'm facing a new situation.  A neighbor's tree fell in July of last year into the back yard of my out-of-state rental property, damaging a small section of chainlink fence.  My property manager at the time charged me for tree removal ($345) and sent a few photos.  I was under the impression that the tree that had fallen was a tree that grew on my property.

Fast forward to now and I learn from a new PM that the tree was a neighbor's tree and my tenants are asking to have the section of fence repaired.  Apparently my initial PM became aware that it was a neighbor's tree and indicated that they were going to contact the neighbor regarding repairs to the fence, but it never happened nor was this communicated to me.

I'm being asked by the current PM to contact the neighbor and request the cost to repair the fence.  I'd also like to recover my tree removal costs if possible, though my current PM is telling me that I'm financially responsible for the tree removal, which doesn't sound correct.  

The property is in NC.

If I can get ahold of the neighbor's contact info (current PM is offering to ask the tenants to get their information, but I don't want my tenants involved), should I email, call, or write a letter?  How should I approach this conversation with the neighbor?

I loathe dealing with the "human" side of RE which is why I hire a PM.  I much prefer deal analysis or DIY reno-ing a vacant property.  I blatantly suck at talking to people, so writing a letter or email would likely be best.  I'd also have the communication in writing.  What should I say?

Thank you in advance.

Hi @Jordan Little ,

Sorry to hear about this... frustrating to say the least.  Have you involved insurance companies at all? Either yours or your neighbors? 

Additionally, shouldn't it be the responsibility of your PM to get the information of the neighbor?

Your property manager sucks. If you're going to manage the property, why do you need the PM? 

A year later, good luck recovering the costs of the damage. If you can prove it was their tree, and that it damaged your fence (pictures, etc), your PM should be requesting the neighbor's insurance information so that the claim can be submitted to them - or, alternatively, filed with your insurance company who might then facilitate a repair from the neighbor's insurance or pay for the repair and then abrogate against their company. 

Check with your state. My brother in MN has a tree leaning over his neighbors yard that’s slowly destroying a stone wall. He’s claiming that if the tree falls in to the neighbors yard the neighbors insurance will pay for the wall and tree removal. As opposed to him being responsible if they work on it while standing. 

Many things are insurance related are weirdly state related. (MN is also home to everyone having no deductible auto glass replacement. Or “come here for your free new windshield and we give you some steaks or a gift certificate.” Though I THINK they recently banned that. )

A simple call to your insurance agent should clear things up. Though I would reverse it as you’d DO NOT want to even THINk about a claim for damages under $5,000, much less under $500. Just call and say hey, who’s responsible when a tree falls across a property line, both for tree removal and any damage. They SHOULD no the answer instantly. 

In NJ it is tough luck- barring extreme case - you go through your homeowners insurance or pay.


You and your Property Manager both need to get educated on local laws. Most states and localities consider the property line as the line of responsibility. Tree removal and damage is the responsibility of the property owner where it falls. If a neighbors tree falls on your fence, you are responsible for clearing the tree up to the property line. You are also responsible for fixing the fence or anything on your property that was damaged. The only exception is if you can prove owner negligence was to blame for the tree falling. Owner negligence could include a situation like if the tree was dead and rotting in their yard before it fell. It would also include a situation where the neighbor was cutting down the tree and it fell on your property. If the tree fell due to winds or storms, that is an act of God and you are out of luck.

Also be aware that tree maintenance follows the same rules. Anything overhanging your property line is your responsibility to trim and care for. 

Go ahead and call the city to verify, but most likely it is all your responsibility.

@Jordan Little from an insurance perspective, your neighbor does not have any responsibility.  

Your insurance could respond to the damaged fence if you have coverage for it under your policy.  Unfortunately the cost of repair is most likely under your deductible amount.

If tree removal was a year ago and $345, I'd just write it off.  Why didn't the original PM have the fence repaired when they removed the tree?  

Talk to the neighbour and say you thought the PM had talked to them and repaired the fence.  As it was their tree that damaged the common fence, are they willing to pay for repairs?  If you have an estimate that will help.  Worst case, you pay 50:50.

This is why I don’t use PMs anymore. You’re most likely out all that cost. But I would message the neighbor and explain to them what you told us. If they are half way decent, they’ll pay for it or maybe just half. If not, just move on. We’ve all been burned for things. I hate getting ripped off or dealing with nonsense tenant issues. But it’s part of the game. Just roll with it and expect more to come in the future. Lol. But you still can’t beat this type of investment so don’t let it bother you.

As others have said time for a new PM.  Just this week a branch fell from a neighbors tree doing damage to a privacy fence on a property that we manage.  Tenant called us at 11am to alert us and we talked to the neighbor a few hours later.  Yes, hours, not years lol.  

That said, and this my be state by state but here, it doesn't really matter that the tree was the neighbors.  The insurance of the property that was damaged covers the cost of making the repairs.  In this case, clearly the neighbors tree but the home we manage has to file/pay out the claim.  

Also, because we were listed on the insurance policy for our client we are able to manage about 50% of that insurance work for our client.  

As others have said, a year later may be too late, but never to late to find a better PM.  We do exist : ) 

@Jordan Little What a bummer! so sorry you're dealing with this.  Honestly I would 100% have the expectation that the PM would approach the neighbor and handle it...that's their job.  Obviously with the time past it might be hard now... But 100% my expectation of the PM would be to handle this, and honestly not even approach me until there is a proposed solution if not it having already been handled. 

Originally posted by @John Morgan :

This is why I don’t use PMs anymore. You’re most likely out all that cost. But I would message the neighbor and explain to them what you told us. If they are half way decent, they’ll pay for it or maybe just half. If not, just move on. We’ve all been burned for things. I hate getting ripped off or dealing with nonsense tenant issues. But it’s part of the game. Just roll with it and expect more to come in the future. Lol. But you still can’t beat this type of investment so don’t let it bother you.

 The decent thing would be to NOT ask your neighbor to pay for your damage, when they have no legal responsibility to do so. That is probably why the PM didn't ask in the first place. The important thing is following the law. 

Thanks everyone for the feedback.  Fortunately the damage is isn't enough to warrant me actually being interested in making a claim with my insurance.  From the PM's statement I was under the impression that the neighbor would be responsible, but it makes sense why they may not.

Sounds like it's just one of those costs of doing business things, which has certainly happened before and is sure to happen again.  

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :
Originally posted by @John Morgan:

This is why I don’t use PMs anymore. You’re most likely out all that cost. But I would message the neighbor and explain to them what you told us. If they are half way decent, they’ll pay for it or maybe just half. If not, just move on. We’ve all been burned for things. I hate getting ripped off or dealing with nonsense tenant issues. But it’s part of the game. Just roll with it and expect more to come in the future. Lol. But you still can’t beat this type of investment so don’t let it bother you.

 The decent thing would be to NOT ask your neighbor to pay for your damage, when they have no legal responsibility to do so. That is probably why the PM didn't ask in the first place. The important thing is following the law. 

I didn’t know the neighbor wasn’t responsible for their tree falling into his yard. This happened to me recently and the neighbor’s huge tree knocked out my fence and fell on my house. I talked to them and they said they would take care of it all  I didn’t know we are responsible for the neighbor’s trees damaging our property. Seems like the decent thing to do if my tree wiped out the neighbors property would be to take care of it, but that’s just me. And I would hope the PM would reach out to me if this happened unless the damage was very minimal. 

 

Good news. It ws a rental property. You get to write it off your taxes and you’re out less than $300 and it was taken care of automatically by PM. Not imagine it’s your place you can’t deduct it and you have to go hunting for someone to take care of it. 

This is practically the cheapest problem you could have. 

Funny this comes up.  I just had a tree limb fall and take out the power line to an out of state rental I own this week.   Total cost to repair was $615 including fixing the box and house etc.  PM messaged me as it was over $300 but since it was an emergency they did not per-ask for approval (thankfully).   I was grateful they got it all worked out.  I didn't even bother to ask who owned the tree because it does not matter.   In fact what I asked is if I needed to pay to have the tree trimmed to prevent further damage.  

Scenario 1:  If the cost is so high as to matter (tree falls on house), then I just pay the deductible and let insurance figure it out.   That is why I pay for insurance, high cost, low occurrence events.  

Scenario 2:  If the cost is nominal then you just eat the cost.   Ownership has responsibilities and life is unfair.   Sometimes you have to pay for things you should not.  Your scenario is this case (as is mine).  You are not going to sue the neighbor, cost prohibitive.   You are not going to threaten, you have no leverage.   You are not going to sweet talk them, you are remote.   Just accept that you take the "L" on this one.  

In fact, the real problem here is that the fence was left damaged for a year.  I am glad to see you have changed PMs, that should really bother you, that your property was damaged and neglected for a year.  I wish you good luck.  

In Colorado (and most states I believe), an individual is only responsible for a tree damaging their neighbor's property if they have been notified (in writing via certified mail ideally) that the tree poses a hazard and needs to be removed/remedied. Otherwise it's difficult to prove negligence on behalf of the neighbor. You can usually cut any limbs overhanging your property. 

Originally posted by @John Morgan :
Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock:
Originally posted by @John Morgan:

This is why I don’t use PMs anymore. You’re most likely out all that cost. But I would message the neighbor and explain to them what you told us. If they are half way decent, they’ll pay for it or maybe just half. If not, just move on. We’ve all been burned for things. I hate getting ripped off or dealing with nonsense tenant issues. But it’s part of the game. Just roll with it and expect more to come in the future. Lol. But you still can’t beat this type of investment so don’t let it bother you.

 The decent thing would be to NOT ask your neighbor to pay for your damage, when they have no legal responsibility to do so. That is probably why the PM didn't ask in the first place. The important thing is following the law. 

I didn’t know the neighbor wasn’t responsible for their tree falling into his yard. This happened to me recently and the neighbor’s huge tree knocked out my fence and fell on my house. I talked to them and they said they would take care of it all  I didn’t know we are responsible for the neighbor’s trees damaging our property. Seems like the decent thing to do if my tree wiped out the neighbors property would be to take care of it, but that’s just me. And I would hope the PM would reach out to me if this happened unless the damage was very minimal. 

 

I tend to agree that some folks would do “the decent thing” and take care of it, so asking the neighbor can’t hurt.  However, @Joe Splitrock is right that in most jurisdictions, it is indeed the “recipient” of the fallen tree (or their insurance) that is responsible.  I have been on both sides of this issue and done the “decent thing” several times, only to end up with neighbors who refused to pay or chip in when the case was reversed.  That’s life - it goes on.

So, asking won’t hurt, but be prepared for a firm “no”.  I agree that the PM should have resolved this a long time ago.  That’s probably your biggest learning from this incident.  Fixing that fence and the $350 for the tree removal is not that big a deal in the long run.  Fix it a d move on - and consider hiring a new PM