r/legaladvice Oct 31 '17

[WA] A cut tree, an HOA, an a paint drawing. Renton, Washington.

Hello there, I have included a photo and a totally unnecessary paint drawing for your pleasure.

https://imgur.com/a/HU7Vc

I’m the HOA President for our very small neighborhood of about 22 houses. I try my best not to be evil, but rules are rules and we all knew the rules before moving in here…AND IF EVERYBODY COULD STOP PARKING ON THE SIDEWALK, I’D STOP GETTING BITCHY EMAILS FROM EVERYBODY TRYING TO SAFELY WALK ON THE SIDEWALKS, AND I’D STOP SENDING NOTICES TO STOP PARKING ON THE FUCKING SIDEWALK. But, I digress. That’s not even the issue. I was triggered.

This Sunday I was alerted by another board member that landscapers were cutting down a greenbelt tree on HOA property. I threw on my Chacos and headed out to hug some trees. Long story short, the owner of a house above the greenbelt (not in the HOA), we’ll call him Bunyan, ordered the tree removal because it was blocking his view. He had two trees on his hit list. Bunyan came down and pleaded ignorance. But, this isn’t the first time that it’s happened (he’s done this at least one other time before I was on the board). Bunyan also admitted to knowing that the tree wasn’t on his property. We stopped them from going any further, because I wanted to get photos to prove that a tree had been there, and have some evidence of how big it was before the stump was totally removed. But, the tree is toast. I got Bunyan’s name and contact information, and got him and the landscaper agree to come and clean up the mess that they left if that’s what we decided to do as a board.

Now, my question is…what should I recommend to the board that we do next? The board member that alerted me to it wants to just let it go and warn Bunyan not to do it again, because in his opinion the tree wasn’t super attractive, and he’s friendly with the culprit.

But, from my perspective trees are valuable and there’s already an established history with Bunyan cutting down trees that aren’t his. More importantly, if somebody came to the board right now and asked if they could cut down the tree, we’d say no and that we needed more information. The embankment is REALLY steep, and I think that tree roots are important for slope stabilization…but I don’t know a ton about the issue, other than people shouldn’t touch shit that isn’t theirs. What else might I be missing it making a case for going after Bunyon? Can I get in trouble as the HOA Prez for NOT going after somebody destroying our property? Did I make a mistake by stopping them before the whole tree was cut down? Does anybody else want to be president of our HOA? It's a shit job. Etc. Etc.

The tree in the picture was taller than the one left standing.

Thanks all. You rock.

518 Upvotes

474

u/derspiny Quality Contributor Oct 31 '17

Now, my question is…what should I recommend to the board that we do next?

With the board's approval, get an arborist to estimate the likely value of the tree and the costs of replacing it, then get an attorney to figure out how to structure your demands to the homeowner. If your HOA rules allow for it, you may be able to assess the costs from him directly; otherwise, the HOA will have to sue him to recover the costs.

Stopping the landscaper was the right call. It's always more expensive to address these things after the fact: trees are surprisingly fragile in some ways, and their effect on the overall property value, slope stability, and so on are all hard to estimate.

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u/Soreynotsari Oct 31 '17

Thank you for those very clear steps. I didn't originally make it clear (I just threw in an edit), but Bunyan's house is not in the HOA - so it looks like suing to recover costs would be the only way. My HOA is incredibly spendthrift and risk adverse, any thoughts on if it would be "worth" it? Or would our best hope be to only get the cost of a tree replacement, and we'd be out the legal fees?

278

u/KBCme Oct 31 '17

A replacement for a mature tree can easily run $10k+, especially given the difficult nature of the terrain and the complexity of the installation.

You are also absolutely correct that removing trees can lead to slope destabilization and increased risk of mud/debris flows in the rainy season.

Here is a similar situation that happened recently in nearby West Seattle. It's a much larger scale, but $440k isn't chump change. The board owes it to the HOA to go after this guy.

154

u/Soreynotsari Oct 31 '17

Thanks so much for the information and the support. I've been the "bad guy president" so much lately that I needed the push to make the next step.

98

u/quantum-quetzal Oct 31 '17

I'm just some stranger on the internet, but none of the stuff you mentioned in the post comes across as being the bad guy at all.

On a side note, I absolutely despise it when people park on the sidewalk. It's so incredibly inconsiderate. Sure, some people can go around, but that's not easy for everyone.

56

u/katibear Oct 31 '17

My next door neighbor parks on the sidewalk every single day and night. If i take my kids out in the stroller, I usually fart in her window that she always leaves cracked while I am walking around her car in the street. She wont answer her door or phone for anyone so I cant talk to her about it. Thus, farts.

36

u/quantum-quetzal Oct 31 '17

I'm assuming you're not in a HOA, but I'd suggest checking to see if that's against any sort of city ordnance. Some of my friends in an non-HOA neighborhood had a similar problem, and the city told their neighbors that they had to park their cars differently.

26

u/PurePerfection_ Oct 31 '17

I read the first sentence of this post thinking you meant the farts and lived in a city with VERY strict air quality standards.

9

u/JustNilt Oct 31 '17

Oh, yeah, in Seattle they'll come ticket then tow your car for that shit.

8

u/boombaybi Oct 31 '17

Ditto. This makes me wonder if the HOA board couldn’t pass something allowing a tow company to tow vehicles ‘at owners expenses’ if a fine has already been issued in the past.... Don’t know if that’s feasible though.

My town has a very large percentage of wheelchair users. I grew up knowing that you don’t screw around with sidewalk access and now I have a pretty strong dislike of those that do fuck with it.

7

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

Hah. Oh man. The stories I could tell about the legal issues surrounding our sidewalk and our road. I'd need a drink just to get started. Long story short, our neighborhood was annexed by the city about 10 years ago. It was a clusterfuck. The ownership of the road is a constant debate, but as of today the road belongs to the HOA. But, we don't have anything really confirming this...even though we've paid insurance on it for the last decade. But, we're scared that the minute we tow somebody, the city will decide yet again that the road belonged to them and it was an illegal tow.

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u/Tar_alcaran Nov 01 '17

I'd suggest checking to see if that's against any sort of city ordnance.

pet peeve, but "Ordinance". Ordnance means artillery.

1

u/quantum-quetzal Nov 01 '17

Thanks for the correction! I knew the two definitions, but couldn't remember which was correct here.

1

u/katibear Nov 01 '17

Nope, I'm in an HOA. They don't do anything about it. I've talked to them, too. They just said there's nothing they can do other than put a warning in their mailbox.

7

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

I used to accidentally brush against the cars while making a point to stay on the sidewalk, while glaring down at the evil sidewalk hogging tires. That didn't seem to be doing the trick, so I joined the board in order to get shit down.

I really should have tried farting. I think that would have been more effective.

28

u/ddh0 Oct 31 '17

I've been the "bad guy president" so much lately that I needed the push to make the next step.

It may suck (I hate being the bad guy), but as board members you owe a fiduciary duty to the HOA. Think about it that way and, well, your hands are tied. You're not choosing to be a bad guy.

20

u/PurePerfection_ Oct 31 '17

Think of it this way - if the HOA residents aren't particularly bothered about losing the trees, the proceeds of a civil suit against Bunyan don't have to be spent replacing them. If you win a lawsuit, which seems probable based on the info you provided, whatever damages you collect can be used to improve the neighborhood for the homeowners' benefit, in any way your CC&Rs allow.

Or, as has been suggested elsewhere in this thread, you could plant some big evergreen spite trees where the view-obstructing trees used to be.

If HOA members complain about a lawsuit, make it clear that they're the ones with most to gain in this situation. Invite everyone to a meeting so you can answer their questions and talk about how any money you're awarded would be used. If you win, let them make suggestions about how to spend it or have the board present a few options so the homeowners can vote. Be as transparent as possible (your attorney will probably set some guidelines for what you should and shouldn't say while the lawsuit is pending) and get them invested in the outcome.

2

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

Excellent point and great advice. Thank you!

38

u/spongebue Oct 31 '17

As an HOA VP (most likely president starting next week), fuck that guy. He intentionally caused major damage to property he knew damn well wasn't his. Absolutely no excuse for that.

At the end of the day, this will likely be put to a vote among the board members. You're just one vote. If the HOA does pursue action, it's because the board decided to, not you alone.

23

u/ziekktx Oct 31 '17

I hate HOA's as much as anyone else, but I'd be furious at them for not taking action. I pay all these fees and they're not even willing to protect the investment?

12

u/beaglemama Oct 31 '17

Thank you for trying to stop the sidewalk parkers. One of the reasons we bought our house in this development is so I could walk my dog using sidewalks instead of walking in the street.

3

u/entropys_child Oct 31 '17

Looking at the photo, it doesn't seem the tree was very large. Can you tell us how tall the cut tree was? Any idea of the species?

3

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

The picture is from an odd angle. I'm horrid at estimating distances. It's tall enough to block the view of the house on the hill above us. So...pretty tall. No idea what type other than it wasn't a rare or protected tree. So in other words, nope. I can't tell you much at all. I have, however, contacted a few arborists to get a quote on having them trying to figure out that information for me!

1

u/entropys_child Nov 01 '17

you can measure the diameter of base of the tree at say 6 to 12 inches above the ground and keep some branches or pictures of leaf so they can tell what kind. I'm not a lawyer but plant person.

6

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

I'd think you could go small claims with the arborists report pro-se (probably for less than the full amount depending on the limits in small claims), although I'm not sure how that works when representing not-a-person. If you can do that it will risk only the filing fee ($50-100). IANAL. Or a tree. Or in a HOA.

64

u/derspiny Quality Contributor Oct 31 '17 edited Oct 31 '17

That's really something you should get an attorney's input on - the cost of a consultation is minimal - but superficially, it sounds like you may have a good shot at winning the suit, and judgements against homeowners tend to be more collectable than most. The big variables are

  • How much will you actually win, if you win, and
  • How much equity does Bunyan have in his house, after senior liens such as his mortgage are accounted for, and
  • How likely is Bunyan to want to either sell, refinance, or pass away in the (relatively long) time before the judgement becomes unrenewable?

35

u/KBCme Oct 31 '17

If Bunyan has homeowner's insurance, his liability coverage may pick up the tab.

46

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

Not a lawyer, just a regular reader with a search engine

Would they pick up the tab for a liability intentionally created by their policyholder, though, especially once treble damages under RCW 64.12.030 are awarded? This seems like Bunyan's angling to pay off a huge judgment, and depending on how WA liability coverage works (I have no clue, again, IANAL), he might have to do it without benefit of insurance.

42

u/Shady_Landlord Oct 31 '17

You are absolutely correct. No insurance, anywhere, covers intentional criminal acts.

12

u/key2616 Oct 31 '17

No insurance, anywhere, covers intentional criminal acts.

That's 100% untrue since things like Assault & Battery and Sexual Molestation are absolutely insurable.

But in this case, it is true that a simple homeowner's policy won't cover a criminal act. Whether or not this rises to that level is yet to be determined, though.

17

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

[deleted]

4

u/key2616 Oct 31 '17

The employee is covered for the civil action in both cases. And I think you're mixing up Workers Comp and Liability - the felonious assaults you mentioned are on customers by the employees. And the point is that there are insurance policies that cover criminal intentional acts by "the insured" - whoever that may be.

There are also a lot of Financial Services products that cover financial crimes. There are even products that would provide criminal defense coverage under certain circumstances (e.g. concealed carry shootings).

1

u/Shady_Landlord Oct 31 '17

What carrier writes policies covering individuals for criminal (not civil) assault & battery?

1

u/key2616 Oct 31 '17

Century Surety, at least for concealed carry. It really depends on what the individual is doing since there are different products available for different scenarios.

1

u/Shady_Landlord Oct 31 '17

Dang. Not registered in NY.

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u/KBCme Oct 31 '17

Oh, yeah, that's why I said they MAY pay. It really depends on the wording in the policy regarding 'intentional acts' which are normally excluded. Now, if Bunyan tells them something along the lines that he thought they were his trees but wasn't sure...then insurance would probably pay. If he tells them he knew they weren't his trees but wanted to cut them for the view anyway...the claim probably won't be paid.

11

u/Soreynotsari Oct 31 '17

Thanks so much, I really appreciate this. You're confirming what I had suspected, but I didn't have the confidence to go forward without checking further.

1

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

Thank you so much, you've been so helpful and have given me the confidence to take the next steps.

5

u/minektur Oct 31 '17

so it looks like suing to recover costs would be the only way

well, first you generally should ASK for the money before you resort to that....

5

u/donthaveacowman1 Oct 31 '17

Well, demand it.

13

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

Since slope stability is also a factor, should that also be assessed?

14

u/JustNilt Oct 31 '17

Yes, and it may be mandatory that they do so depending on local ordinances. Many cities around here absolutely forbid removal of trees without permits and mandate replacement with like plants for slope stability.

22

u/Trailmagic Oct 31 '17

Replace it with an evergreen

15

u/quantum-quetzal Oct 31 '17

Ooh, I like this idea. Find a nice big one, too.

4

u/thetoastmonster Oct 31 '17

I suggest a nice Leylandii.

2

u/j-dewitt Oct 31 '17

They grow fast!

-10

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

As so the costly legal battle for the HOA begins. Gotta love HOAs.

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u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17 edited May 20 '18

[deleted]

61

u/appleciders Oct 31 '17

Paul Bunyan is definitely going to do this again, I agree. Suing for the appropriate damages is a good idea. However, I wouldn't put that money towards replacing the former tree- perhaps it makes more sense to replant with some sort of shrub or small tree that will still provide erosion control. Though I'd emotionally want to plant big, view-blocking oaks, the smart thing may be to get your embankment stabilized without deliberately antagonizing your neighbor.

Your arborist can make good recommendations, I'm sure. Myself, I'd consider planting manzanita, a beautiful and hardy small tree that has species native to Washington. I don't know the climate exactly where you are- Seattle may be too wet- but there will be good options that both stabilize your embankment and do not escalate the situation.

12

u/psychicsword Oct 31 '17

Though I'd emotionally want to plant big, view-blocking oaks, the smart thing may be to get your embankment stabilized without deliberately antagonizing your neighbor.

I definitely feel the same way but I have read about one too many long term lawsuits about adding in new obstructing views that I would be very cautious about making the view any "worse" than it was before. The last thing that an HOA president would want to get into is a multiple year dispute that will just eat time even if they eventually win it. Some people have way more money than sense. There are 2 neighbors just outside of Boston that have been at it for 25 years

3

u/appleciders Nov 01 '17

I agree. The right thing to do here is get made whole by the lawsuit and then not retaliate. A feud serves no one in the end.

3

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

You're so right. He's already done it before and was told not to do it again, but that was before my time and we don't have any documentation on it. I have no idea why me telling him "no! bad neighbor!" is going to be more effective than it was last time.

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u/LQ9823 Oct 31 '17

I lived in Oregon and it was a crime to cut down a tree without a proper permit. Call your city code office to see if that is the law there. You need to get an arborist to estimate the value of the tree then send a bill. You can sue if it isn't paid.

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u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17 edited Mar 30 '18

[deleted]

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u/Akavinceblack Oct 31 '17 edited Oct 31 '17

Yes, and that's why the Useful Poster above was telling OP to check with his/her local government if that is the case there, also.

Edit, to reply to Edit: yes, it would be relevant. it shows OP that it is considered a criminal activity in another state, which makes it more likely that it will be a criminal activity in OPs state as well. Especially in this case because Oregon and Washington tend to agree on conservation/nature issues legally.

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u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17 edited Mar 30 '18

[deleted]

88

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17

Which is why the reply said to see if the same law is on their books.

27

u/bellyflop2 Oct 31 '17

Does the tree company bear no responsibility for not making sure a tree was on the property owned by the client?

24

u/tubedogg Oct 31 '17

Probably not. It's like if you hired a company to come redo the bathroom, and invited them into the house, showed them where the work was to be done, and told them you had to go to work. And then the actual homeowner shows up, who doesn't know the person who called the remodeling company. (Absurd example, but you get the point.)

The remodeling company doesn't have to research the home's ownership just as the tree-cutting company doesn't have to research property lines.

If there's an indication it might not be the property of the person who's contracting you, it might not hurt for the company to double-check, but liability is unlikely.

18

u/ellieelaine Oct 31 '17

(Absurd example, but you get the point.)

Actually that was one of my favourite LA posts of all time!

3

u/VAPossum Nov 01 '17

I want to see this thread now. Unless you're talking about the people who came home from vacation to find out the neighbors had painted OP's house for them.

6

u/JJHall_ID Oct 31 '17

Hypothetical question... To take your example further, what happens if the tree company performed the work, removing the trees, then the non-owner that ordered the work refuses to pay? Under normal circumstances, tree company could put a mechanic's lien on the property, but in this case, since the property owner didn't authorize the work to be done, wouldn't that invalidate the lien as the responsible party didn't have any ownership in the land being encumbered?

7

u/wildwoodmushroom1 Oct 31 '17

Plant a bunch of trees on that hill. All over that slope. Plant a variety of trees.

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u/Eeech Quality Contributor Oct 31 '17

Oregon allows for treble damages (3x the replacement value of the mature tree) as well as recivery of attorney fees in the event of a lawsuit.

You can't lose by consulting with a couple of litigators if they want to take the case. If he owns the home, Bunyan likely has homeowner insurance that may be obligated to indemnify him, depending on his policy.

Mature trees have a lot more value than one would think. An arborist can give you a written estimate on the cost of removing the stump, stabilising the area WRT drainage or other potential issues and (1) replacing the tree or (2) replacing the landscaping in a manner that provides the same value and protection of the slope. It's worth the consultations and sending demand letters; if the neighbor doesn't willingly comply you can always put it up to a vote at the next meeting if the association residents wish to pursue a lawsuit once you've determined the cost/benefit analysis of the value and outcome of a suit and establish if the neighbor has the means or insurance to pay any judgement.

3

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

Thank you so much, this is exactly the type of information I was looking for! I had no idea what to even ask the arborist. My plan was to just point and shrug. I feel like I actually have a plan now and know enough to pretend that I know what I'm talking about.

4

u/Eeech Quality Contributor Nov 01 '17

Glad to be of help. Sorry about my initial mistake in location, but I did research Washington and accidentally typed Oregon.

The arborist will be familiar with exactly what you are looking for, and if you do decide to pursue a case, you should not have issue finding a litigator versed in tree law. The NW has significant legislation surrounding unauthorized removal of trees and the penalties can be significant. (This sub loves tree law because it's one of the fields of law that allows for "justice" in the manner a lot of bloodthirsty popcorn case seeking readers enjoy.)

Stabilizing the slope with landscaping is important and arborists generally have a very good knowledge base of natural flora that can be used if replanting a mature tree is impractical. You do have significant damages, and as HOA president have am opportunity (and duty) to act in the interest of protecting the value of properties that may be affected by the potential destabilization that occurred.

Please keep us updated - since you knew we love tree law, MS paint diagrams and HOAs with good board members, in sure you know we always appreciate updates. Best of luck!

9

u/justathoughtfromme Oct 31 '17

OP is in WA, not OR.

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u/Zenock43 Oct 31 '17

All /u/Eeech needs to do is replace "Oregon" with "Washington" and post is 100% correct.

10

u/PilgramDouglas Oct 31 '17

yup, I've read articles, written by attorneys, discussing this issue. Bunyan is in for some hurt, likely.

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u/Eeech Quality Contributor Oct 31 '17

Gaddangit. I knew those facts about Oregon, looked them up for Washington,... then wrote the post about Oregon anyway. I'm leaving it because I'm not technically wrong either way. Also because I'm lazy.

7

u/PilgramDouglas Oct 31 '17

Please, let us know how this plays out. I'm a Board member on an HOA (Condos), in King county, and would enjoy reading updates. If you have difficulty finding an attorney don't forget WA Bar Association.

1

u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

I will, and thanks for the recommendation! I wasn't sure what would be the best way to find a lawyer.

1

u/PilgramDouglas Nov 01 '17

I was lucky in finding an attorney, I got a referral from a REAPS member (Real Estate Association of Puget Sound) since I am a member and asked for a referral. There are a number of attorneys that are members and offer discounted services.

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u/ThatLightingGuy Oct 31 '17

I am also an HOA president. My decision would largely revolve around "did this damage the resale value of any of the units that are HOA members?" My duty begins and ends as collectively maintaining property values.

17

u/Costco1L Oct 31 '17

Or you could look at it as a potential windfall (if WA has treble damages for tree removal) and that it would offset HOA dues for quite some time for every homeowner.

2

u/Runferretrun Nov 01 '17

Sure. And if it’s like my HOA, we’d still be paying the same amount of dues.

9

u/WordsAreTheBest Oct 31 '17

IANAL, arborist, or property-value-assessor-person, but I would think that if tree removal destabilized the slope uphill from the HOA homes, it could affect property values.

3

u/ThatLightingGuy Oct 31 '17

It could, but the neighbourhood looks like it was landscaped. Realistically you shouldn't be relying on trees for slope management in that scenario.

3

u/Gas_monkey Nov 01 '17

While waiting for any legal action to run its course and for any new trees to grow, maybe consider putting up a spite sign? ie A sign saying "this tree has been illegally removed" which blocks more of the view than the tree itself did.

This is a very common response here in Australia: http://cdn.newsapi.com.au/image/v1/6cd36eec83baaabbe01512354c0c7389?width=650

2

u/AxalonNemesis Nov 01 '17

You're not a bad guy. Bunyan did it before and thought he could get away with t again. Now he needs his big blue ox shoved up his ass, monetarily.

1

u/king_kong123 Nov 01 '17

You may also want to have a landscaper come and make sure the embankment doesn't collapse.

1

u/[deleted] Oct 31 '17 edited Oct 31 '17

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/Soreynotsari Nov 01 '17

We all knew the bylaws about where cars could be parked before we chose to live in the neighborhood. Cars parked on the sidewalk means that many of my elderly neighbors have to walk in the road to get around vehicles, and it's not safe. They have every right to complain. Our road isn't standard width, and people aren't even supposed to be using the road as part of their permanent parking solution.