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How should I approach my neighbor about a tall dead pine tree that he won't cut down?
November 12, 2006 7:15 AM   Subscribe

How should I approach my neighbor about a tall dead pine tree that he won't cut down?

My neighbor across the street has a very tall pine tree that has been slowly dying. Each storm we have brings down yet another gigantic branch and it's obviously rotting top to bottom.

I've asked him about this before and he claimed it would cost him too much money to have it cut down. But my concern is that if the tree falls, it could fall on my house and/or my cars.

We have a homeowners association that I could go through, but I'd prefer to use that as a last resort, since they've had so much trouble with this guy in the past.
posted by vannsant to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
 
Know of a local timber yard? If you let them keep the wood, perhaps they could take it down for free.
posted by popcassady at 7:28 AM on November 12, 2006


I'm so tempted to answer this question "With an axe." But, I won't...:-)

Here's what The People's Lawyer (Prof. Richard M. Alderman) has to say about it.
posted by paulsc at 7:30 AM on November 12, 2006


Offer to pay for it yourself.
posted by generic230 at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2006


IANAL, but I have big trees.

One thing that paulsc's link omits is documenting the state of the tree, the communications you have with your neighbor (write a memo and copy him after every conversation) and photos of any dead branches that fall. I'd even print your posting here. Your mission is to create a case file that shows a) you were aware of the issue; b) you called your neighbor's attention to the issue and therefore "I didn't know" isn't a defense; c) your concerns were not mitigated. This is how you prove negligence.

Depending on your relationship with your insurance agent you may get some help from that direction.
posted by jet_silver at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2006


they've had so much trouble with this guy in the past

It sounds like reasonable conversation is not going to convince this guy to cut down the tree. Knowing that he'll be liable for damage to your property is no comfort either, since he'll be reluctant to pay for (more expensive) repairs to your house if he's already complaining about the cost of cutting the tree down. This will necessitate hiring a lawyer, etc. - not an inexpensive proposition.

Let's face it, your relationship with the guy is going to go quickly down hill in any case if that tree hits your house. Here's what I would do if you don't want to call in the Homeowners Assoc. : I would ask him if you can pay for cutting the tree back to a safe level (i.e. out of the way of danger of hitting your house). This won't be as expensive as cutting the tree to ground level. It will be somewhat of an eyesore, but it will save you some money and lots of aggravation later.

Also, if you have any trees on your on own property that need pruning, you could ask the tree company to cut you a break on cutting back the neighbor's tree.
posted by Flakypastry at 8:05 AM on November 12, 2006


Do you have code enforcement in your area? In some municipalities, it is illegal to have a dead tree on your property that could fall on another person's property. Perhaps a ticket from code enforcement would push him to do it.
posted by FergieBelle at 8:08 AM on November 12, 2006


I agree with documenting the story in detail. Send the neighbor a letter telling him of your concerns and mention that when the tree falls he will be in a poor position to claim he was NOT neligent therefore he stands to suffer greater damage from an award. A wonderful thing would be copying it to his insurance carrier if you could trick that tid bit out of him in a conversation. THEY would want to know the increased risk THEY are covering. Dose the tree have ANY chance of hitting anyone else or any POWER lines??
posted by Freedomboy at 8:11 AM on November 12, 2006


Easy, cheap solution: buy a chainsaw, you can get cheapo's today (but better go with a STHL). When he's at work/vacation/etc--go cut down the thing and tell him that it started to fall while he was away and being the generous/gracious neighbor you are, you thought you'd go ahead and cut it up for him (put a dent in the ground somewhere to "make believe" a branch actually fell)
posted by uncballzer at 8:21 AM on November 12, 2006


I agree that your insurer is your friend. They can help you find his insurer, who will enforce keeping the property safe. Meanwhile, make it easy for him by finding a tree company that will do the work, getting the best quote you can and giving it to him.
posted by theora55 at 8:23 AM on November 12, 2006


Easy, cheap solution: buy a chainsaw, you can get cheapo's today (but better go with a STHL). When he's at work/vacation/etc--go cut down the thing and tell him that it started to fall while he was away and being the generous/gracious neighbor you are, you thought you'd go ahead and cut it up for him (put a dent in the ground somewhere to "make believe" a branch actually fell)

This is not the easy, cheap solution. It's the incredibly fucking stupid solution. Falling trees - especially trees that are surrounded by expensive houses - isn't easy, and it isn't something amateurs should do just because they want to. If the poster goes and falls that tree and it hits something (his house, his neighbour's house, whatever), he's just moved the negligence from his neighbour to himself.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:33 AM on November 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


Your neighbor's insurance company would be very interested to learn about the hazard on his property. I don't know how you find out where he has his homeowners insurance, however.
posted by LarryC at 8:49 AM on November 12, 2006


Easy, cheap solution: buy a chainsaw, you can get cheapo's today (but better go with a STHL). When he's at work/vacation/etc--go cut down the thing and tell him that it started to fall while he was away and being the generous/gracious neighbor you are, you thought you'd go ahead and cut it up for him (put a dent in the ground somewhere to "make believe" a branch actually fell)

Probably the most dangerous advice I have ever seen on AskMefi.. Unless the poster is an experienced tree surgeon or a lumberjack, chances are s/he ends up dead (with a healthy tree) or dead (a zillion times over) with a rotting snag that explodes half way through the first cut.
posted by Rumple at 9:10 AM on November 12, 2006


I would ask him if you can pay for cutting the tree back to a safe level

I don't know if this is the best approach, because now he's taking the responsibility of removing the impending damage to his own property. If, for example, he paid for someone to come and cut down a bunch of dead branches, and then a week later there's a really bad storm that knocks the entire tree down and crushes his car, the neighbor can claim, "Well, he said he'd take care of it. Not my fault if he didn't do a good job."

If you're going to pay to trim it back, you might as well pay to remove the whole damned tree.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2006


I'll second jacquilynne - felling tall trees in residential areas takes skill. Depending on the location and if there are heavy branches that will pull it in a undesirable direction, it may have to be limbed before it comes down. That means strapping on some tree spikes, looping a belt around your waist and climbing a rotting tree with a chainsaw in one hand. I know a guy who does that sort of thing. He's fucking nuts.
posted by vonliebig at 9:18 AM on November 12, 2006


Yeah - we have a friend who is a veteran, professional faller, (well, several, really, but only one in this story) with all the appropriate equipment and a couple of decades of experience. Plus my father has some experience falling trees in the bush and lots of time handling a chainsaw, because growing up, we heated our house with wood.

Between a talented amateur and a seasoned pro, they managed to avoid landing the tree in our backyard on anybody's house. Took out the railing on our deck, though.

That's a couple of guys who didn't have to go out and buy a cheapo chainsaw because they already had all the equipment from previous experience, and they couldn't get the thing down totally safely. Imagine the likelihood of a complete newbie pulling one down without taking out at least a fence and probably a house, and likely one of the people involved.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:37 AM on November 12, 2006


Consult YOUR homeowners insurance. They can help represent your interest in how to go about documenting and dealing with this problem.

I don't think it can be said enough: DON'T try and cut down a tree by yourself with some cheap chainsaw with no knowledge of how to do so. Not that the OP would do that, but everyone should recognize that as HORRID advice.
posted by dog food sugar at 10:05 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Step one is have an arborist come and look at it. Maybe you can split the cost with your neighbor as an indication of good will!

There can be many factors that go into the decision of taking a dead tree down or leaving it, including proximity to houses, power lines etc, the state of the trunk (a non-rotting dead tree can be perfectly stable for decades), etc etc.

Once the tree's disposition is officially and professionally acquired, then you can move forward with solutions recommended by the arborist, which as a bonus may carry more weight with your neighbor than your reasonable but non-tree-professional concerns.
posted by Aquaman at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2006


Tell us what city you're in and we'll tell you what to do -- we need to know local ordinances, local tree folk, etc.

Otherwise, you "have a homeowners association that [you] could go through" -- why not do it?
posted by pracowity at 10:21 AM on November 12, 2006


I agree that talking to your insurance company may be a way to go. They have a vested interest in not having you make a claim: maybe the neighbour doesn't even have insurance. They sounds irresponsible in other ways.
posted by Rumple at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2006


I also agree that you should talk to your insurance company about it. They will know about local ordinances, too.

Trying to cut it down yourself is the stupidest possible thing you could do. You probably know that, but it's worth reiterating. You'll kill/injure yourself, damage property, piss off your neighbour, and possibly violate the law (trespass) all at the same time.
posted by Dasein at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2006


Contact the city and also your local power provider. When that storm hit St. Louis in July a large deal of places had downed lines because property owners did not take any measures about trees that were in danger of collapsing on them. Ameren was kind of pissed off about that. I think that Ameren will actually come out there and trim it for you if they are alerted to it being a potential problem to them.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2006


As for getting a lumber yard involved - they aren't interested in any trees on residential property. Their saws cost too much, and they assume that any tree from a residential area had a treehouse in it at some point and still has nails imbedded in it now.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2006


When I was house shopping last year I looked at a house with a huge stump out front. By pure coincidence, I ran into the neighbor who I used to work with. I immediately started digging for information about the previous owner and inside of the house. It turns out the previous owner had financial problems and eventually lost the house. However, before he lost it the dead tree out front fell on the neighbor's house (my friend) and caused massive damage (I believe he said it was well over $10K and still climbing). It broke the water main under the sidewalk causing major flooding in his basement, damaged the porch and some other stuff I can't remember. The tree had been dead with limbs falling every storm just like the poster's situation, but the owner ignored his neighbor's requests to have it cut down. In his financial situation, the previous owner obviously couldn't pay for the damages and his home owner's insurance was in default as well. My friend's insurance covered most of it (minus a sizable deductible), but it's been a huge headache that has pretty much monopolized his life for months.
posted by bda1972 at 3:59 PM on November 12, 2006


send a certified letter to the neighbor requesting the trees removal- you can write " This letter is being sent upon my attorney's advice to protect myself for teh eventuality of the trees' falling down.." you can scare him into doing something about it and at the same time not come across like a meanie.
posted by Izzmeister at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2006


This is not legal advice.

Here's what I'd do: get a certified tree surgeon and/or tree removal service to come to the house and confirm for you, in writing that the tree is indeed dead and that it poses a risk. Get a copy of this and send it to the neighbor via a certified, registered letter with return receipt requested. Then see what happens.

Some states require that the damaged property owner's home insurance policy pay, especially if there is no evidence that the tree owner knew the tree was dead.

If the neighbor does nothing and the tree causes damage to your property, you have evidence that he was warned and knew the tree was dead. He may also just choose to take care of the problem when he sees you're serious.
posted by LGCNo6 at 2:42 AM on November 13, 2006


Anyone paying attention knows it's a hazard. You've asked the guy to deal with it and he's declined. You have a home owner's association but you don't want to involve them... because they've had trouble with the guy?

a) Do you expect this guy is going to be less trouble for someone else?
2) Exactly what other step do you think we're going to suggest for you between asking the responsible person - which you have already done - and involving the next level of authority?

You seem to be in a region that is vulnerable to hurricane winds. Now's the time to kick this in gear before the new season rolls around. (Yes, I know theoretically this one isn't finished but the peak time is over...) You could send the registered letter but it sounds like he's just going to cry poor again and then what? You'll have to escalate to the HOA or the county to make him deal with his responsibility and you'll have a pissed-off lazy cheapskate mad at you. At least this way he doesn't KNOW it's you till he asks, at which point you can own up or lie.

Complain to the HOA. Let those usually useless petty bureaucrats do something useful with their time for a change. And feel no shame about it. This guy's lazyness and refusal to take responsibility for his issues is endangering your money at the least and you and your family's health at worst.
posted by phearlez at 8:06 AM on November 13, 2006


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