Generally speaking, trees that fall onto your land are your problem and may be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. This is true even if those trees are rooted on your neighbor’s property. You are responsible for costs of removing the downed tree on your property and for the damages that the tree caused. For this reason, it is essential that you consult your insurance agent to make sure your policy covers these casualties in amounts reasonably calculated to cover the costs of tree removal or restoration.
The average cost for removing a 40-foot tree that is 36 inches around will run approximately $1,000. Actual costs will vary based on the location of the tree, the branches, the tree’s condition and whether you want the wood left behind, cut into usable firewood or hauled away.
Before you engage a tree removal contractor, make sure he or she is licensed and insured. In D.C., a general business license is required for tree removal. This license can be obtained by tree removers in two categories: home improvement or general contracting. Verifying a general business license in the home improvement category can be done online at cpms.dcra.dc.gov/BBLV/default.aspx. To verify a general business license in the general contractor category, you have to call DCRA license division at 202-442-4311.
Homeowners in Virginia can check to see whether their tree removal contractor is licensed by visiting www.dpor.virginia.gov/licensees. In Maryland, tree removal is covered by rigorous tree expert licensing requirements. The list of licensed Maryland Tree Experts can be consulted at www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/tree_expert_search.asp.
Tree removal contractors should carry property, casualty and especially worker’s compensation insurance. Without worker’s compensation insurance, any tree removal worker injured on your property could sue you for the damages suffered in the line of work. According to the American National Standards Institute, tree removal is often the most dangerous and expensive of tree care services: “Very few industries have a fatality rate above 30 per 100,000 . . . the fatality rate among police officers and detectives is about 13.5 per 100,000 . . . the annual fatality rate for tree workers generally does not dip below 30 per 100,000 and may be higher in some years.”
Steven Rubenstein, owner of A3 Insurance Services in Gaithersburg, said, “Property owners are responsible for protecting their property.” It is essential to review your policy coverage with your insurance agent, since coverage will vary from company to company. Rubenstein added that “certain insurance companies take the position that only property owned by the insured is covered,” therefore “when an insured’s tree falls and destroys the neighbor’s fence, the claim may be denied since the fence was not the insured’s property.” Unless the neighbor who suffered the damage can claim that the tree owner was negligent, he may be out of luck and may have the bear the cost, not only of the fence damage, but also for the tree removal.