Homeowners insurance and tree damage
By Lauren Ward
As a homeowner, it’s your job to care for and protect your property, but home insurance companies offer policies that can help you with the protection part. Tree damage may not be the first thing that comes to mind when choosing coverage levels for your homeowner’s insurance, but if a tree falls on your home, it can damage your house and your possessions and cause financial devastation. The endless ‘what if’ scenarios can feel overwhelming, but as far as tree damage is concerned, it’s best to pick coverage rooted in caution and practicality.
Much like the Lorax speaks for the trees, we’ve outlined preventative measures you can take to care for or remove trees and protect your property from tree damage. We’ve also outlined scenarios where your home insurance might or might not cover damage caused by trees. Understanding the nuances of a standard homeowners insurance policy could help ensure you know what is covered if a tree wreaks havoc on your property and what damage you might be responsible for out of pocket.
Does homeowners insurance cover tree damage?
Whether or not a homeowners insurance policy covers tree damage depends on the situation. In order for the damage to be covered, the cause of the tree falling must be due to a covered peril. Many homeowners know they can usually file a claim if a tree damages a covered structure, but you may not know that many home insurance policies also cover at least some portion of damage to the actual trees, shrubs or plants, as long as the damage was caused by a covered peril.
So if a tree falls in your yard but does not damage your home or any other structure on your property, some portion of it may be covered by your home insurance policy. According to the Triple-I, this type of coverage will generally be capped at a certain percentage of your dwelling coverage limits. It’s important to note that most home insurance companies will not pay for tree or shrub removal, except in some cases where it is blocking a driveway or handicap access.
Every policy is different, however, so you should consider speaking with your insurance agent about what is and is not covered in your policy — before tree damage occurs.
Tree damage causes typically covered by home insurance:
- A fire caused by lightning (and other apocalyptic events)
Tree damage causes typically not covered by home insurance:
Does homeowners insurance cover tree removal?
Homeowners insurance typically covers the removal of trees if they have fallen due to a covered peril and onto a covered structure, like your house, or if the tree is blocking an access point. Some situations where tree removal may be covered are:
- If a tree falls on an insured structure, such as your home itself or a garage
- If a fallen tree is blocking a driveway
- If a fallen tree is blocking a handicap-accessible ramp
Situations where tree removal is not covered under your insurance policy should be carefully considered. If your home hasn’t been damaged by a fallen tree, but you want to preemptively remove trees on your property, it is unlikely to be covered — and could even have negative consequences.
For example, if the person responsible for removing the tree is injured during the process, you may risk legal repercussions as the property owner. Bodily injury liability is one of the more infrequent causes for insurance claims, but can be one of the most costly. From 2015-2019, according to the Triple-I, bodily injury and property damage was the second severest homeowner’s insurance claim, costing an average of $29,752.
Insurance companies consider your justification for tree removal to determine if it will be covered. They will likely not cover the removal if you’re worried about your yard aesthetic and find the tree unsightly. If an insured structure was hit, insurance providers may reimburse you for tree removal up to a specified dollar amount, usually ranging from $500-$1,000. If a covered structure was not hit, your insurance company is unlikely to pay for its removal, except, possibly, in the circumstances mentioned above. It’s important to check your policy and ask your agent to determine your exact coverage.
What to do when someone else’s tree damages your property
A standard homeowners insurance policy should cover a tree that falls on your house, regardless of who owns the tree.
In some cases, the insurance company may try to collect the money needed to cover the damage from the neighbor’s insurance company in a process called subrogation, which may also cover the deductible for the homeowner whose property was damaged.
However, if your neighbor’s tree has not fallen on your house, but it’s encroaching on your property, do you have the right to cut it?
Usually, it depends on whose yard has the tree trunk. If your neighbor’s tree branches and leaves cover portions of your yard, but the tree trunk is in his yard, it belongs to your neighbor. In that case, your local laws or HOA governance will likely determine whether overgrown trees that encroach on your property must be maintained by their owner.
Tree removal in these cases can lead to disputes between you and your neighbors who have differing opinions on the matter. Your HOA may get involved, or worse — your neighborhood Facebook page could become the battleground for the tree removal debate.
Another risky ‘what if’ is if your tree is damaging your neighbor’s property. It could cost you and your insurance provider to compensate for the damages, not to mention your reputation in the neighborhood. That’s why regular care and maintenance of your trees is typically a good idea.
How much to expect from the insurance company
The payout from your insurance company after tree damage depends on several factors, including what type of property was damaged. If a covered peril causes damage to your house, you may be eligible to receive up to the limit of your policy’s dwelling coverage, depending on how much damage was done.
You can usually also file a claim for your personal belongings, if they were damaged, up to certain limits. Different categories of possessions have individual limits and high-value items may not be covered at all, unless you have added them with scheduled personal property insurance. You can choose to increase these limits, but it will likely cause your homeowners insurance premium to go up.
If the tree itself that caused damage to your home was valuable, you might also be able to file a claim to replace it. As mentioned earlier, not all policies will cover the actual tree, and the ones that do will likely have certain coverage caps in place, so you will need to look at your policy or speak with an agent to see how much is covered.
Once a claims adjuster creates an estimate for each claim category, the insurance company subtracts your policy deductible from the amount you receive. Many homeowners insurance policies also cover some living expenses, such as hotels, up to certain limits if your home is uninhabitable while the damage is repaired.
How to prevent tree damage
It is your responsibility as a homeowner to maintain your trees properly. Damage caused by dead or rotting trees is not likely to be covered by homeowners insurance, and if a tree owned by you causes damage to someone else’s property or person, you might get sued. Here are a few things you can do to prevent trees from causing damage to structures and property:
- Trim any trees on your property regularly, especially those with long branches.
- Check for signs your trees are dead or dying (not on Healthline) by observing a year-round lack of leaves or hollow trunks.
- Look for mushrooms, cracks or holes at the base of tree trunks to rule out rotting.
- Consider removing trees that are leaning off-center that have a higher potential to fall.
- Pay extra attention to trees that hang over your roof, driveway or power lines.
- Consider having a tree expert examine the trees on your property periodically to look for signs or disease or rot, or to recommend preventative maintenance.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best home insurance company?
Finding the best home insurance company depends on a lot of factors. It is a good idea to compare quotes from some of the top home insurers in the country using criteria like customer service scores from J.D. Power, financial strength ratings from AM Best and average premiums. Not every homeowner has the same needs, so it is smart to look at several options and speak with a licensed insurance professional.
Does homeowners insurance cover diseased tree removal?
Diseased tree removal is generally considered routine maintenance and is not typically covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. It is your responsibility to track the health of your trees and treat them when needed.
If a falling tree damages my roof, will that be covered by homeowners insurance?
A roof can be expensive to replace, but most standard policies will cover tree damage to a roof if the following perils caused it:
- Fire or lightning
- Windstorms and hail
- Riots, vandalism or theft
- Damaged caused by aircraft or vehicles
- Volcanic eruptions
- Falling objects
- The weight of snow, ice or sleet
In most cases, roof damage from a tree felled by floods or earthquakes is not covered. It is a good idea to purchase a separate policy to cover these perils if you live in an area prone to either. Note that insurance companies will typically only cover your roof if it is in good repair. If you are unsure of the specific coverages included in your policy, turn to your agent or insurance company for clarification.
Do trees add value to my home?
Arbor Day Foundation finds that planting trees in residential areas can increase property values anywhere from three to 15 percent. Trees can really spruce up a neighborhood and appeal to potential buyers.
Removing dying or rotting trees can also increase the value of your home by eliminating that risk for future residents, according to Realtor.com. Remember that the cost of removing trees, even if diseased or rotting, is considered routine care and maintenance and is usually not covered by insurance.
What types of trees are the safest?
It’s typically a good best practice to select trees that don’t forget their roots — literally. If you’re considering planting a tree or evaluating the type of tree on a property you’re looking to buy, look for healthy, strong roots. Bonus points if the tree is relatively low-maintenance.
Some of the best trees for this can include oaks, maples, hickories and elm trees, according to Realtor.com. You might want to consult with a landscape expert to determine what trees are the best for your climate and property type.
What types of trees can’t be trusted?
Simply put, trees that ain’t from ‘round these parts are better avoided. Experts advise picking trees best-suited for your environment and considering their native location. For example, non-native tree types like black locusts and box elders, native to the Southeast and Central/East regions, generally wouldn’t thrive in the desert climate of the Western U.S., according to Realtor.com.
It’s also usually a good idea to avoid trees that attract invasive species of insects or trees with invasive roots. These types of trees can bring unwelcome visitors to your home or shift the foundation of your house entirely.
Trees with these types of roots include willows, hybrid poplars and silver maples, all of which have the potential to invade your sewer lines and drain pipes.
Again, speaking with an ISA Certified Arborist or landscape professional might be the best idea to determine what trees are right for your home.
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