Even Healthy Trees Need Maintenance

Well-kept trees can add value to properties, help save energy, and reduce crime. The downside? Falling trees or large limbs can cause costly damage. In 2022, 6.4% of claims reported to REInsurePro were due to tree-related damage. You should strongly encourage your investor clients to include tree inspection on their regular maintenance checklists.  

Unmaintained or dead trees can be an eyesore and detract from a property’s curb appeal. However, the problems a dead tree can cause go far beyond looks.  

  1. Dead trees or branches can fall without warning, causing property damage or serious injury to tenants, their guests, or a passerby.
  2. Dying or leaning trees can unexpectedly fall on power lines, cars, and even pedestrians passing by the property.  
  3. Dead trees may attract creatures, such as termites, rats, and insects to take up residence in and around the property.  
  4. Even healthy trees can be jeopardized by nearby diseased or insect-infected trees on the property.  

Did you know?

A few tree species have brittle wood, making them more susceptible to damage in a storm. Chinese elm, silver maple, boxelder, various poplars, and Bradford pears are all prone to wind damage or injury from heavy snow and ice. A tree’s roots can also lessen its chance at surviving a storm. Damaged roots can create points of entry for pathogens and reduce its ability to take up nutrients and water. This kind of damage endangers a tree’s structural support, increasing the risk of it falling during a storm.  

Trees, like all living things, change over time. Your investor clients should have regular pruning done at least once a year. Doing so promotes healthy limb and branch growth. Once dead branches are removed, the trees nutrients can be directed to healthy branches, making it less vulnerable to pests and diseases and reducing the likelihood of dying branches and limbs falling on their property. A tree that was healthy and survived the last storm isn’t guaranteed to survive the next one.  

Protecting your investor clients from tree damage

Here are some tips for the investor client: 

First, know what is in the property’s insurance policy: Investors should read the sections of their insurance policy that address trees, shrubs, and landscaping. It is important that the investor knows what they are and are not covered for. If you and your client don’t understand something or have questions, don’t hesitate to contact your Sales Manager who would be happy to help you! 

Inspect trees on an annual basis: Keeping greenery in good shape should be one the investor’s top priorities for their exterior maintenance list. Keeping up with trees can prevent costly damage, and maintaining a tidy yard, especially on vacant properties, can help reduce the potential for their property to be vandalized. In addition to regular maintenance, investors should be sure to check their trees after any large storms; broken limbs may need to be trimmed immediately to avoid a loss.  

Hiring a professional is best: Any arborist the investor hires should be certified by an organization such as the International Society of Arboriculture or the Tree Care Industry Association. They will also need to have the appropriate liability insurance. Investors can find an arborist in their area by calling TCIA at 800-733-2622 or running a Zip Code Search on www.treecaretips.org. ISA-certified arborists can be found through a search tool at www.isa-arbor.com. 

Investors should make sure their tenant understands their responsibilities: Though any tree-trimming responsibilities will likely fall to the investor as the owner, their tenants must know what they are responsible for when it comes to the outside of the property. Investors should specify in the lease what tenants are also not allowed to do at the property! At the bare minimum, tenants should contact the investor if they see any hazardous conditions. Investors should make sure tenants have an easy way to contact themselves or the property manager if a tree is damaged or damages the property (or the neighbor’s property) during a storm.

After a tree falls

There are many different scenarios in which a tree may have caused property damage. Below are some steps your investor clients should take after a tree falls: 

If the investor’s tree falls on a neighbor’s property or tenant’s car… 

Generally speaking, the claims process will move fastest if the neighbor files a claim with their homeowners insurance. As for the investor’s tenant whose car has been damaged, they should file a claim with their auto insurance.  

The investor can always start a liability claim on their end; although, a payout in a liability claim requires the establishment of negligence. If the investor’s insurance carrier doesn’t find them at fault for the tree falling, which is often the case, the claim will be denied. To establish negligence there must be some sort of proof (usually in writing- a text message, for example) that the tree was dead, the neighbor or tenant had made the investor aware of the tree’s condition, and that the investor neglected to do anything to remove the hazard.  

Let’s say the tree had fallen during a storm. That would likely be deemed “an act of God” and therefore, not covered in a liability policy. In this scenario, the neighbor’s homeowners insurance or the tenant’s auto insurance would pay for any damages.  

If a neighbor’s tree falls on the investor’s property… 

If the damage from a neighbor’s tree is enough to warrant it, the investor will want to submit a property claim. Although, depending on their deductible, it may make more sense to repair the damage out of pocket rather than risk a future premium increase for having this loss on the books.  

If the investor’s insurance carrier pays out, they will likely subrogate against the neighbor’s insurance company. Subrogation refers to the right an insurance company has (after they’ve paid a covered claim) to request reimbursement from the at-fault party. The reimbursement typically comes from the at-fault party’s insurance company. If the investor’s insurance carrier is successful in the subrogation process, they may be reimbursed for their deductible.  

Another option is to have the investor’s neighbor start a liability claim with their insurer. However, this can take a bit longer than a property claim to settle. The same rules apply here in terms of establishing negligence. If the neighbor was not found negligent for damage caused by the tree, the liability claim would be denied and there would not be any payout from their policy. Note, this does not prevent the investor’s own insurance carrier from paying out for the damages. They would, however, incur a deductible at that point.  

Further reading

To learn more about what is and isn’t covered in a typical policy, read Is It Covered? – Trees, Shrubs & Landscaping.  

To learn what signs indicate your trees may not be perfectly healthy, read Five Signs Your Tree is in Trouble