If A Tree Falls in My Yard in the Berkshires, Who’s Responsible?
I live close to downtown Adams, which on a day like this is basically a giant wind tunnel. The winds blowing down from Mt. Greylock are no joke. And, as I watch the trees sway in my backyard (and my neighbor’s backyard) it got me wondering…who’s responsible if a branch comes down in the other’s yard? How about a whole tree?
*First off, I’ll say right here I’m no lawyer nor is this legal advice, so if you have specific questions or issues, contact the experts.
That said, generally speaking if a branch or tree in Massachusetts falls in your yard…it’s going to be your responsibility.
I remember when I first heard that, years ago, I was taken aback. How is it my responsibility if a neighbor’s tree falls over into my yard and damages my property, when I have no recourse to cut it down or prevent it happening in the first place? Well…assuming that tree is healthy, it’s not anyone’s fault that it fell over. The storm that knocked it over was an act of nature, outside anyone’s control.
That’s one reason why you have to have homeowner’s insurance in Massachusetts. That insurance should pay if damage is done to your property.
However, if the tree or branch just falls and doesn’t damage anything, there’s a good chance you’ll have to pay out of pocket to have it removed. This happened to my parents, where they had to remove a tree that didn’t belong to them because it fell on their property but didn’t damage anything. Remember though, this goes both ways, and it could be your tree or branch that falls into someone’s property and you’re off the hook on removing it or paying any money out of pocket. In an area with lots of trees like The Berkshires, this is a roll of the dice many of us take.
One thing to keep in mind, though. If your neighbor can prove that the tree was diseased, a hazard, or something along those lines, there may be scenarios where the neighbor’s insurance will pay also. Again, contact the experts in this case.
Here’s another thing to consider, and this comes from a case called Sheil v. Rowell in Massachusetts. While you can’t go into your neighbor’s yard and cut down (or force them to cut down) a healthy tree, you can cut or remove any part of the tree that crosses the property line into yours.
As far as trees go, they’re one of those things you have to look at when buying your house. Note the trees, note where they’re located, note the condition of them, and decide if you’re ok taking that risk of the neighbor’s tree branch (or tree) coming into your yard…or vice versa.