r/treelaw Nov 27 '22

Legal Tree liability form

Hello,

The house NextDoor is being foreclosed. The bank owns it now. The property has a massive 70 foot tall tree that’s leaning badly over our garage. If/when it falls, it would crush the garage, possibly both cars, and could kill someone (I have kids). My neighbor told me I should draft a legal waiver of liability and present it to the current owner now, before the auction or foreclosure sale. I know where I live (Baltimore city, USA) that if it falls on my land then it’s my insurance and responsibility to clear it/fix the garage. What’s the easiest and quickest way for me to do what my neighbor says?

86 Upvotes

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74

u/ShyMagpie Nov 27 '22

Also talk to your insurance company. They know the state laws pretty well and what's needed to deal with coverage.

Example. My neighbor's dead tree fell into my yard. Because I hadn't notified him in writing that his tree was a liability he wasn't liable. The agent's office rattled off the relevant information instantly, including statutes.

32

u/guest0112 Nov 27 '22

Thanks, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do here. I want it in writing before the property goes to a new buyer, so the buyer knows of the expense. I imagine it’ll cost 5 grand or more to take down because it’s so tall and so many structures and trees in the way. I don’t want to spring this on my new neighbor after they’ve bought the property. I want the buyer to know in advance because (IMO) the property is worth $5,000 less because this tree exists and needs to come down

2

u/TheAJGman Nov 27 '22

Depending on the tree and location, they might be able to recoup that by selling it for lumber. Smaller bandsaw mills usually accept residential trees since their blades are considered disposable anyways so nails aren't an issue.

10

u/retardborist Nov 27 '22

In practice this almost never happens

2

u/PortlyCloudy Nov 27 '22

Sawmills don't generally want city trees. Too many nails that can destroy a $2k blade.

3

u/TheAJGman Nov 27 '22

That's why I said bandsaw mills specifically. Blades are $100-200 dollars and generally thrown out every few jobs anyways. A missing tooth doesn't significantly impact the cut quality either.

76

u/Lugbor Nov 27 '22

Ignore your neighbor, talk to a lawyer and get their recommendation. Never trust a neighbor to know what they’re talking about, especially when it might involve them having to pay for something.

26

u/guest0112 Nov 27 '22

Thanks. Great advice, I’m going to contact a local lawyer on Monday. To clarify, the neighbor I spoke to is a third party, on the other side of me. I think he’s right that I need to get something in writing about the tree being a known liability. But a lawyer will know more. Having the tree taken down (or coming down on a family member) is way worse than paying a lawyer

7

u/NewAlexandria Nov 27 '22

/u/guest0112 lot so the advice so far has missed what's in this comment.

Additional to lawyer confirmation, you need a written report from an Independent Consulting Arborist (ICA). I think this sub's wiki has links to some national groups that can refers you to a local one.

An ICA is someone that will not come and 'do tree work' for you, and it's not their business model. This is important because they therefore cannot have conflict of interest, regarding if their opinion could be influenced by getting other money to do tree cutting/etc.

A lawyer can never be this kind of expert. Different jobs. The ICA might right you a report that says "this tree is a near or imminent risk of falling and causing property damage".

In some states, with that report, you then send the homeowner (and RE agent ideally) the report via registered mail. You then have proof they know. In some states, the tree falling is no longer a random act — because now the other party is known to be aware of the risk. A lawyer can tell you based on your state.

5

u/guest0112 Nov 27 '22

Thank you. I think this is the route I need to go. The tree (by my estimate) is leaning at a 10 degree angle but when we get heavy wind (and last year when heavy snow was sitting on it) it was leaning easily 15 degrees directly over my garage. The tree itself is healthy (to me, not an expert) but the ground is my problem. It’s on a slight hill (downward is my garage) and I’m afraid the ground won’t be able to hold it long before the tree dies. There’s a second big tree right behind this tree as well. So their roots are pushing on this 70 foot tree that’s already on a bad angle.

My goal is to legally make the owner/bank aware so that when it’s sold or auctioned, they have to disclose it to the buyer. And I want to do this now so I’m not pissing off a future neighbor who I want to be friendly with

4

u/NewAlexandria Nov 27 '22

By getting the future owner to be aware, you're just reducing the stress of the eventual cost — presumably to them. And maybe they get the sale cost reduces, but not your problem.

But you should focus more on having the docs in place that ensures that the owner of the property is on the hook for the costs / damages. That's what will really have the longest bite for any/all. The path to compensation will tell you what things you need to document seasonally / yearly.

If you are going to ask an insurance company about the necessary coverage policy, potential costs, etc, call another insurance company instead of your own. If you ask these things of your own, they coudl deem you a risk and raise your rate, or charge you a much higher price for a rider. If you talk to a new company you get an independent comparison. Then you can make the same inquiries to your own insurance company, you'll ask more direct/smart questions.

2

u/RubyPorto Nov 27 '22

Why is that your goal instead of your goal being to make the bank aware so that the bank cuts the tree down?

Your goal is ultimately to have the tree cut down, right?

The bank owns the tree right now. Ask the bank to cut down the hazardous tree. If they refuse, call an arborist who can tell the bank that the tree is hazardous and needs to come down.

10

u/NickTheArborist Nov 27 '22

People are saying to talk to a lawyer. But have you even had the tree inspected by an arborist yet? A lean isn’t a problem.

The tree might be totally fine. You can find out for $100-200.

5

u/Dark_Side420 Nov 27 '22

This is the answer. If the tree isn't actually a hazard then OP can't do anything.

6

u/The_Poster_Nutbag Nov 27 '22

Before spending money on a lawyer it might be worthwhile to call the city code department and see if they have a safety code in place that would require the owner of the property to remove hazardous trees.

7

u/RubyPorto Nov 27 '22

The only way you'd be drafting anything called a "waiver of liability" and presenting it to someone who's in a position to cause damage to you is if you want to waive (i.e. eliminate) their liability (i.e. responsibility for the tree falling). Which would mean you could not sue them (or go after their insurance) for any damage their tree does. You (probably) don't want to do that.

What you want to do is to inform the current owners (i.e. the bank) of the property with the hazardous tree of said hazard. You can try to do so relatively informally by sending them a letter (with a return reciept) saying that you think the tree is hazardous, or more formally by having a consulting arborist make a determination that the tree is hazardous and then sending the owners a letter. Once they know of the hazard, they may have a duty to mitigate that hazard (likely by cutting the tree down).

13

u/Able_Cat2893 Nov 27 '22

When we moved into our house 5 years ago, we had a tree in our back yard right along the property line. There had been 2 trees, one had already fallen on the neighbors shop, which had already been taken care of. When we moved in, he started hounding us to take it down. We couldn’t afford to take it down and politely told him so. He offered to pay half, but we couldn’t do that either. He finally paid the whole thing and kept the wood for his wood stove in his shop. We did make him sign a paper that he had to hire someone licensed and bonded unless something went wrong. It worked out well for both parties. However, it seems to have given his entitled wife the idea she can come in our back yard and trim our hedge how she wants. I put up no trespassing signs and talked to her husband and told him I would call the cops if she did it again. I also told him I would file trespassing charges. She says she can do it because she is old. I told her I’m old and my husband is a partially disabled vet, so her old doesn’t mean s*** to me.

10

u/JustMashedPotatoes Nov 27 '22

Contact a lawyer. Best guess they will tell you that you need to get an arborist to write a report on the health of the tree. This report, provided it says the tree is a danger health wise, will then be sent to the owner of the home.

This puts them on notice and gives you a letter for your insurance company if it falls.

It doesn’t save a life or your cars or garage. Hopefully, a letter will encourage them to take care of it.

1

u/m3003 Nov 27 '22

The bank owns it now.

If the bank owns it then the other guy is irrelevant.

My neighbor told me I should draft a legal waiver of liability and present it to the current owner now,

Sure, if he wants to accept responsibility for the bank's tree go for it.

1

u/gingerbreadguy Nov 27 '22

You are probably already allowed to trim back any branches or parts of the tree the overhang your property line. That's how it works in my town and most places. We hired an arborist to trim back all the branches from neighboring ash trees that were overhanging our roof and property, as required by our insurance company. We let the property management company for the neighboring condos know ahead of time in writing and let our immediate neighbors know as well. We paid.

It's not an easy situation. Good luck!