Trees and Your Homeowners Insurance

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Coverage is there for Trees and Shrubs under My Homeowners Insurance?

Trees are covered as property only if damaged by one of the following covered perils; fire, lightning, explosion, riot or civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles that are not  owned or operated by a resident of the “resident premises” ,and vandalism or malicious mischief or theft. There is a per tree sublimit, with a maximum limit based on a percentage of coverage A, which is the coverage on your dwelling. For trees damaged by one of the seven perils this sublimit includes debris removal expenses.

For Trees damaged by other perils such as windstorm, the policy pays another sublimit as long as the tree damages a covered structure or blocks a driveway or handicap assist ramp. If a tree simply is blown down in a yard and does not strike a covered structure, nothing is payable for debris removal.

Whose homeowners insurance policy takes the hit when a neighbor’s tree falls, damaging your house or property? It’s a common question, particularly after a major windstorm like Sandy.

In most cases, your insurance will have to take care of it. “Most people don’t understand that if your neighbor’s tree falls and damages your house, shed, fence, pool or lawn, it’s most often your problem, not your neighbor’s,” she explains. “You have to file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company, and the usual deductible applies.”

Of course, the same holds true in the opposite scenario: If one of your trees causes damage to your neighbor’s property, you’re generally off the hook.

One notable exception to the rule involves un-neighborly negligence. If your neighbor’s tree rotted out or otherwise became a hazard, and you can document that you asked that it be removed, your insurer may convince your neighbor to pick up the tab for damages and cleanup. It will help your case if you have photos of the problem tree, a copy of your letter requesting its removal, and, ideally, an assessment by a trained arborist to support your counter-claim.

While homeowner’s insurance policies vary, most standard coverage provides for up to $500 for tree removal. As for replacing fallen trees and bushes, most policies exclude wind damage to landscaping and limit coverage to 5 percent of the insured value of your home, which could free up $500 per tree or plant.

Of course, if your tree falls in your yard without causing property damage, you’ll be left to pay out of pocket to clean it up.

What’s the scenario if a falling tree or limb damages a car? Put down your home insurance declarations and dig out your auto insurance policy.

If your car is damaged by a fallen tree or limbs while it’s parked or when you’re driving it, the damage is covered under the comprehensive, or “comp,” portion of your auto insurance. However, should you drive into a tree or over a limb and sustain damage to your vehicle, that claim would fall under your collision coverage.

Similarly, if someone else drives into your tree and damages it, their collision coverage should pay for your claim. Drive into your own trees, however, and you’ll pay out of pocket