Who is responsible for removing dead trees?

February 13, 2012 3:29:40 PM PST
Recent rainfall is helping to end our drought conditions, but the extra rain is doing nothing for the trees that have already died because of our long dry spell.

In fact, some of the drought-stricken trees are already starting fall, and homeowners are beginning to worry about damage from their neighbors' dead trees.

Tree experts tell us it is just a matter of time before dead trees become a major problem. So what can you do if your neighbors' trees are becoming a safety hazard?

You expect to see plenty of trees on Timber Valley Drive, but some residents say many the stately pines are becoming dangerous.

"It just seemed like they all died at once. They were just, you look around and you see dead trees everywhere, and the more you look the more you see," Jerry Faucheaux said.

Faucheaux is especially worried about the two dead trees he sees over his back yard fence. He says he called Harris County about the tree problem but found no solution.

"They said basically we are on our own. They only cut down county trees," he said.

We are told local governments cannot compel you to remove a dead tree, but the potential hazards may run afoul of your homeowners association rules.

"They are going to start sending out letters to homeowners telling them they are in violation of deed restrictions if they don't cut down their dead trees," Faucheaux said.

While getting the trees removed is a good idea, it is not cheap. Removal costs around $800 for a large pine tree. If you wait, the costs go up.

Ed Schulthies with Embark Tree and Landscaping says that as trees decompose, they become more unstable and more costly to remove.

"You can't get the person in the tree. You have to have specialized equipment, and that can be cranes and that can increase the costs of doing the job safely," Schulthies said.

By this time next year, removal costs could double for trees that died in 2011.

As for who pays after a tree has fallen from a neighbor's yard into your yard or home, it depends.

Some policies cover the damage. Others state that if you knew the tree was dead and did nothing to remove it, the policy may not cover you.

University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman says under the law, your neighbor is responsible for tree damage if he was negligent in caring for the tree.

He says it's not a bad idea to tell your neighbor if you think their tree is a problem. That way, if something does happen, the neighbor can't say he did not know there was a problem.