Shuman Roy is an entrepreneur, business owner, and musician. He started RoysNoys, LLC in 2013 as a music production and education service company. He also offers small business consulting and advisory services to help businesses get from start-up mode to turn-key operations. Shuman earned his M.B.A from the Stern School of Business in 2001 and has an undergraduate degree from Manhattan College in ...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Joel...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 7, 2021

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Here’s a cliché, but common insurance question:

“Does insurance cover my roof if my neighbor’s tree falls on it?”

Fences make great neighbors. Anyone who has had neighbors (which is most of us) can agree that it can be difficult to get along with the people we live next to. Some conflicts are minor. Others are bigger, sometimes even leading to lawsuits and other challenges.

But what happens when an annoying neighbor’s tree falls and causes damage to your property? Ideally, you should be able to work with your neighbor to get the tree removed after which you can have your home removed. Regardless of how it happens, though, you might wonder if your homeowners insurance will cover it or if you need to go somewhere else.

Whether you’ve predicted it for years or if it came as a surprise, it’s generally handled the same way. Some choice words my be exchanged such as, “Some day that #*@!$%^ tree is going to fall onto the garage”…and guess what? It happened. So what’s next?

What protection do you have for personal belongings damaged by the tree?

First, you need to be sure to make an effort to ensure your property is not damaged any further. Back your cars out of the garage…make sure a gas can wasn’t knocked over and spilling onto oily rags, etc.

Your homeowner’s insurance policy dictates that you attempt to mitigate further losses by taking “reasonable” action to protect your stuff. If other personal belongings or parts of your house are damaged further due to neglect, that damage may not be covered. This includes damage to your home if you wait to call a professional to assess and repair the damage.

Tip: Don’t run into a burning house to save your Boz Scaggs CD collection. That would not be “reasonable.”

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Can your insurance agent help with your claim?

You also need to call your insurance agent to report the damage to your home. I know, it’s not “your fault,” and you don’t want to file an insurance claim that will drive up your rates. Sometimes, this may be the quickest way to make sure your home is repaired. Even if your neighbor is a good friend of yours and they want to do their part, their insurance company may not play along. After all, they have no financial interest in your property.

If you call your insurance company immediately for tree damage or anything else, you’re eliminating possible complications associated with a delayed claim on your homeowners policies. If your relationship with your neighbor is contentious, you can also pass the baton to your insurance company to pursue any reimbursement later on.

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Can you prove negligence?

If this is truly negligence on your neighbor’s behalf, you don’t have a care in the world…besides getting your garage fixed. Keep in mind, if your car was damaged outside your home, your auto policy’s comprehensive coverage may kick in. If there was negligence (such as your neighbor not taking care of a damaged tree for weeks or months before it hit your car), your responsibility is to file the claim with your insurance and then cooperate with your insurance provider’s requests if they need more documentation.

The only way for your neighbor’s insurance policy to respond to this type of loss is to prove negligence on the neighbor’s behalf.  This is achieved by documenting your concerns if the tree looks to be overhanging your property and at risk of collapsing – BEFORE the loss occurs.

You would be responsible to prove that you attempted to get the neighbor to take care of the troublesome tree prior to the loss. Without this sort of “backup,” the tree falling is simply an “Act of God” and not a covered event.

Could you be responsible for damage caused by your neighbor’s falling tree?

In most cases, trees and/or limbs fall without any prior warning, regardless of whether they are in bad shape or in perfect condition, thanks to particularly bad storms. Most of us try not to pester our neighbors and simply don’t have time to inspect trees and “document” our findings year round.

Does that mean we must live in fear? Not exactly.

A properly endorsed homeowners insurance policy may include coverage for fallen tree limbs. You’ll need to read your policy and/or contact your current insurer to determine if you have this particular coverage.

You would still have to file a claim in this instance, but your cost for doing so (in the form of future higher insurance premiums) may be much less than the cost to repair your damaged property…and that’s what insurance is for. Just like your auto insurance policy, your homeowners policy can pursue reimbursement in the background depending on state laws and the situation. Their primary responsibility is to you as the policyholder.

If you believe your neighbor’s tree is dangerous, you can’t necessarily force your neighbor to pay for tree removal. If it looks like a hazard, you should make sure to address it early, though, and document the situation. This way, you can protect yourself after any incident causing property damage later on.

*Keep in mind that with all insurance claims questions, answers may vary widely based on insurance company and/or state in which you reside. Be sure to contact your claims adjuster for specifics.

Read more: Why insurance companies won’t cover some roof claims.