All morning, I’d heard a pop-pop-popping sound coming from outside. At first, I thought it was a pair of squirrels having a war with the hickory nuts that fall in my yard this time of year. When it didn’t subside, I wondered if one of the neighborhood kids was home sick from school and playing with a cap gun. An hour passed, then two – then the popping ceased for just a moment, before I heard a huge CRACK followed by a whirring sound… watched as my neighbor’s 100-year-old oak fell into my yard, just barely missing my deck.
When the tree fell, it took three smaller trees in my yard right along with it. I immediately texted my neighbor, who texted me back to ask, “So when a tree falls between two yards, who pays for it?”
A little research – and a call to my insurance provider – resulted in a quick answer. When a tree falls from one person’s property on to another, each party is responsible for the clean up – and related cost – for whatever portion of the downed tree is on each person’s land. That’s the legal thing to do – but what’s the right thing to do?
Since I was already home (and since my parents had just had several trees removed from their property), I called a few companies for quotes. Before my neighbors even made it home from work, I’d already gathered two sets of very different quotes. The one quoted me $525 for the removal and haul away of the fallen tree, as well as clean up and removal of the other trees that were damaged; he quoted my neighbor at $1200 to get rid of the part of the tree that was in his yard, removal of the other half of the tree that was still standing, and grinding up the stump (the second quote was TWICE as expensive as the first). That night, my neighbors and I gathered around my kitchen table to talk it over.
They profusely thanked me for getting the quotes so quickly, then got down to business. The tree showed no sign of ill-health before its monumental demise, so there was no obvious “neglect” on their part; additionally, the tree had (blessedly) missed my deck, meaning there was no structural damage to any of the buildings on either property. All that meant that neither of our homeowner’s insurance policies would cover the cost of clean up. I was on the hook for the $525.
Yet my neighbors didn’t see it that way. While I may have been legally obligated to pay for the tree removal, my neighbors felt it was unfair for me to shoulder the cost for a tree that they saw as their responsibility. They immediately offered to pick up the entire $525 – they said it was the neighborly thing to do. I countered – I thought it would be neighborly for me to pick up some of the bill, since this act of nature wasn’t their fault. We decided that I’d pay $200; they’d pay the rest.
Here’s the thing about money: sometimes, doing the legal thing isn’t the same as doing the right thing.
Have you faced a situation like that? What did you – or would you – do if you were in my shoes or my neighbors’ shoes?