Is a Landlord Responsible for a Fallen Tree?

When it comes to tree care and rental properties, the rules and regulations can be shady… If a tree has fallen onto your property, you should handle the matter with careful attention. You should also strive to maintain the landscape around your property and prepare for emergencies to improve safety and mitigate risk.

Although trees may not seem like a priority, they are actually very important to consider when thinking about property value, energy costs, and environmental wellbeing. Trees are a great asset when marketing your rental property to potential renters and can really make a difference in your property’s overall vibe and appearance. However, it’s also important to learn the basics of proper tree care to sustain a safe and enjoyable living space.

Are Landlords Responsible For Fallen Trees?

So, the big question here is whether or not landlords are responsible for fallen trees. It’s a common occurrence, especially during natural disasters or extreme weather like hurricanes or tornadoes. A tree could potentially cause some serious damage to your property, specifically your roof, walls, and windows.

Typically, a landlord is responsible for fallen trees because they own the tree. The tree is on your property, so, consequently, the tree is yours. Before you do anything else, you should contact your insurance company. If the tree did fall because of a natural occurrence, your policy will probably cover any damage the tree caused, unless it doesn’t cover “acts of God.”

In the case of an issue where you and your tenant cannot come to an agreement of whose insurance should cover the damage, you should speak to an attorney. This may happen if the tree falls onto the tenant’s car and neither the tenant nor the landlord wants to pay for the damages. You should always strive to build a good relationship with your tenant to prevent disagreements in the future.

Why You Should Care About Trees

Trees are probably the last thing on your mind, but it is essential for landlords to pay attention to the trees on their properties. According to TreePeople, trees offer a variety of benefits to homes everywhere. Besides increasing property values by up to 15% and improving curb appeal, trees also can conserve an abundance of energy, resulting in better utility costs. Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50%. Trees can also cool the air in the city by up to 10°F, protect people from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, and even reduce violence in the community. Putting in the time and effort to care for the trees on your property will definitely be worth it in the long run.

On the other hand, trees are important to consider because they have the potential to be dangerous and destructive. Trees can cause serious damage to your property in the event of a natural disaster; a branch may fly off or the tree may completely snap. Additionally, trees that are not cared for properly can die or become diseased. These trees can have a negative impact on your property’s appearance and can easily fall apart. Rotting or weak trees are susceptible to falling limbs and cracking as well. This can easily become a liability issue and usually, the landlord is responsible. That being said, it should be clear now why it is crucial to look after the trees on your property.

Basics of Proper Tree Care

Since you are responsible for the trees on your property, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of proper tree care to ensure the best maintenance and mitigate the most risk.

Understand Your Trees

Although this may seem like a silly hippie mentality, observing your trees and researching information about them and potential diseases is very important. You should identify the kinds of trees you have on your property, as different trees require different care when it comes to amounts of sunlight, water, fertilizer, and more. Observing your trees will also ensure that you notice if they start to look different. This way you’ll be able to figure out if your tree has a disease and diagnose it. It’s better to diagnose a tree disease earlier so you can deal with it immediately. If you’re not sure how to proceed, you could also call an arborist and inform them of the tree’s recent changes so they can find the right solution.

There are many resources online to help you learn about trees, so make sure to do your research. As a starting point, here is a link to a tree identification guide from the Arbor Day Foundation called “What Tree is That?” and a slideshow from Better Homes & Gardens to aid you in diagnosing tree diseases.

Leave Your Trees Alone

Most of the time, leaving your trees alone may be the best way to care for them… Trees don’t really need people to help them grow — they do that on their own. However, human’s interference often damages a tree’s appearance and stunts their growth. People may park their cars over a tree’s roots or try to build something around a nice tree. If you are thinking of constructing something near an impressive tree in your property’s garden, don’t do it! When construction is too close to trees it can damage their roots and growth space. Roots need two to three times the length of branches to grow enough to support a tree. If you’re using a contractor to build the structure, don’t forget to discuss tree care to ensure its health and safety.

Keep Up With Weekly Maintenance

Even though you don’t need to do much to keep your trees healthy, you should still keep up with weekly maintenance like mulching and pruning. You should surround the base of all your trees with mulch to protect the tree from being over-watered and over-fertilized. The mulch should be laid about 2 to 3 inches thick and replaced when necessary.

When it comes to pruning, most trees don’t really need it. In fact, regular pruning can actually stunt tree growth. Pruning should only be done when it is needed — like if there is a dead or cracked limb that must be cut. It’s a good idea to remove these limbs when you notice them to prevent them from falling and/or damaging your property.

Guide to Tree Care

Here’s how to care from your tree, from the first step of choosing a seed and planting it to watching the tree grow and maintaining it.

Planting

Planting trees is a wonderful way of improving your rental property’s curb appeal and attracting more prospective tenants. It’s important that you plant trees strategically to optimize energy conservation, tree growth, and overall appearance. If a tree is not planted properly, it doesn’t have a very good chance of living longer than a year. Here’s how to carefully plant a seedling:

  1. Keep the base or “root ball” of the plant watered while preparing the spot for planting. You want to make sure the plant is healthy and the roots are ready to be positioned in the soil.
  2. Pick the right spot for your new tree to grow and thrive. You should make sure it isn’t too close to any structures so the tree has enough space to spread out its limbs. The tree should also be planted somewhere that isn’t near any pipes or overhead power lines. Research the type of tree and determine its maximum height and width to adequately accommodate it.
  3. Dig the hole for the plant so that it is one and a half times the diameter of the root ball. Only dig the hole as deep as the root ball, never deeper — this way the seedling is nice and snug in the ground, facilitating the best possible root growth.
  4. Before putting the seedling into the hole, cut off any strings or material that may be holding the root ball in place. Then, position the seedling in the hole while gently spreading out its roots.
  5. Then, start refilling the hole with soil. Make sure that none of the soil is clumpy or compacted and break it up before putting it back in the hole.
  6. Lastly, water the soil to help it settle around the newly planted tree and leave the tree be. Refrain from tapping or stomping on the soil — it’s best if the plant settles in naturally.
Pruning

As mentioned previously, trees don’t really need to be pruned all of the time. However, it is an essential task when a dead or weak tree branch is involved. If you do it right, pruning can help a tree flourish, but if it’s done improperly, it can have a negative impact on a tree’s health. Here’s how to trim your trees correctly:

  • Try to cut dead or weak limbs just above the branch collar. If you cut it too high or too low, you can cause damage to the tree and weaken it.
  • Always cut outside the branch bark ridge and angle your cut down and away from the stem. Take care not to injure the branch collar.
  • Never cut off all of a tree’s top branches. This technique is referred to as “topping.” Topping can actually be quite harmful and prevent a tree from growing.
  • Don’t cut off too many inner branches from the tree. If you do, you can diminish the tree’s health.
  • Prune away branches that cross other branches or run against them.
  • You should keep lateral branches as evenly spaced as possible, especially on young trees.
  • To provide clearance for pedestrians and for other reasons, you can raise the crown by carefully pruning the tree. Maintain live branches on at least two-thirds of a tree’s height. If you remove too many branches near the bottom half, the tree may not be able to develop a strong stem.
  • You can remove more than half of the foliage from a branch, just remove the whole branch.
  • If you need a bit of extra help trimming your property’s trees, you should consult a professional. An arborist will know exactly what to do. To learn more about trimming trees and professional services, visit this site.
Soil

Trees need good soil to grow and thrive on your property. For this reason, it’s important t keep soil health and fertilization techniques in mind. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid using pesticides and other harsh chemicals on your soil.
  • The best soil is characterized by a rich, dark color, lots of earthworms, and free of any big rocks or clumps.
  • Make sure your tree has a proper drainage system. If the tree’s roots are waterlogged, then its health may be damaged. It’s important that you prevent this by eliminating compaction and mixing in different types of soil material to increase soil health.
  • To optimize your soil health, get a soil analysis done by your local extension office. This way you can find out information about your soil’s pH levels and composition, helping you make any necessary changes to improve tree growth.
Pests and Diseases

Trees can also be susceptible to a variety of pest infestations and diseases. It’s essential that you observe your trees and watch out for any changes in their appearance. The slightest alteration could indicate that something is wrong. Keep the following in mind:

  • Healthy trees are more susceptible to attracting pests and spreading diseases. For this reason, you should always keep up with tree care and prune branches as needed. Always maintain soil health and water the tree regularly.
  • An arborist can perform preventative maintenance on your trees to mitigate your property’s risk. They can also spot issues before they get worse, helping you nip problems in the bud, so to speak.
  • Overcrowding can stunt tree growth and cause damage to their health. It puts stress on the trees, especially if they aren’t planted in proper soil or environment.
  • If your trees are not planted properly, then they are at higher risk of attracting pests and acquiring diseases.
  • Poor pruning techniques will weaken the tree and make it much more susceptible to pest infestations.

Tenant Responsibilities

Trees are usually a landlord’s responsibility since the trees are on their property, but tenants do have some say on the property’s landscaping… If your tenant wants to add something to the yard, for instance, they can make a request for your approval. However, the costs for this change would need to be covered by the tenant. It is not your responsibility to pay for a tenant’s request when it’s regarding the overall appearance of the property. However, if the tenant believes a tree on the property may potentially cause damage, then it is the landlord’s responsibility to deal with it.

Potential Accidents

When thinking about fallen trees, it’s also important to think about the kinds of accidents that can happen because of them. Not only do sick and brittle trees have a negative impact on the property’s curb appeal, but they can also cause some great damage if limbs snap or break off.

Natural disasters and extreme weather can also cause tree-related damage, sending limbs flying through the air or even uprooting entire trees. In these situations, landlords may wonder what exactly your homeowner’s insurance will cover…if anything. Here are some common scenarios:

  • If a tree falls onto the landlord’s property and damages any part of the structure, then the costs will be covered by the landlord’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Keep in mind, however, that damages will only be covered if the tree was cared for properly and in good health.
  • If a healthy tree falls onto a neighbor’s structure, then their homeowner’s insurance should take care of those damages. Similarly, if a neighbor’s tree fell onto your rental property, then your homeowner’ insurance would cover the cost of repairs.
  • If a damaged, diseased, or disregarded tree falls and causes damage, then the landlord’s insurance policy may raise premiums based on negligence.

Tree damage is largely based on how the landlord cared for the tree and protected their property. If any kind of negligence is involved, then the landlord may be found responsible for damages. This may even result in a lawsuit if the damages are considerable. If you ignore the maintenance of the trees on your property, you may find yourself regretting your lack of action soon.

A Final Word

Considering the benefits of awesome curb appeal, lower energy costs, and an increased pool of potential tenants, trees are a great investment for your rental property. To be a successful landlord, it’s important that you learn the specifics of all elements of property management — trees included. Make sure you are familiar with your responsibilities and that you always keep up with maintenance and practice proper tree care. Trees are great assets for rentals, but they can also cause a lot of damage if they are not cared for properly.