November 3, 2014 in Insurance

Does home insurance cover tree damage

Dear Insurance Adviser,

Our next-door neighbor has a cottonwood tree that is on his property, yet hangs over our house and wooden deck. For the past few years, as the tree has been getting bigger and taller, it has been shedding insects, dead branches, leaves and hundreds of horrid black sticky pods onto our deck, which has forced us to do a total deck refurbishing each year. More importantly, shoes and pets’ paws drag the mess into our home and onto our carpets and hardwood floors. The cleaning is becoming very expensive. We have offered several times to share the cost of cutting down the tree, to no avail. Does our home insurance cover the costs of the deck redos and damage to carpets?

— Mollie

Dear Mollie,

Yes, you probably do have coverage, particularly if you have what’s known as a “form 3 special form” homeowners policy. That very common type of policy covers any damage to your home no matter how bizarre, except for a handful of excluded losses (such as flood, earthquake and sewer backup).

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Because damage caused by a cottonwood tree is not on the list of excluded kinds of losses, it would be covered. The problem you may run into is whether the insurance adjuster considers this one ongoing claim or instead treats each dumping of tree debris as separate losses, each subject to a separate home insurance deductible. In that case, few losses would be over your deductible and you would mainly pay out of pocket.

You might check with city hall to see if there is some kind of ordinance applying to this type of problem. Certainly, you’re not the first homeowner in the city to have trouble with a neighbor’s tree. It may very well be within your rights to cut off any branches that hang over your property line.

If city hall doesn’t have a fix, you might consider suing your neighbor in small-claims court for negligence in not correcting the problem that his tree is causing you. His home insurance policy includes personal liability coverage that would defend him and pay any judgment against him.

Here’s the beauty of this strategy in the long run: Assuming you win the lawsuit, his homeowners insurance company will first pay you 100 percent of your damages and will then cancel his insurance if he doesn’t fix the problem.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

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