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Neighbor dispute over storm damage

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Badfish740, Apr 29, 2013.

  1. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    I had a 40' maple come down during the worst wind gusts of Sandy which ended up destroying about 4 sections of my neighbor's 4' high chain link fence along with two large arborvitaes in his yard. To give a little backstory we'll be in our house five years this June and the day after the storm hit was the first time I had ever spoken with these folks face to face, so it was a little awkward to begin with. When we moved in we immediately got to know everyone except them. They are not home a lot, are older, have no children, and are never outside. I have nothing against people who keep to themselves I just figured after a while of them avoiding us that they didn't want anything to do with us which didn't really matter much to me. Anyway, back to the storm damage. I rang the bell, the wife came to the door and after an awkward "Hi, I'm Matt from next door?" I explained that I was already in the process of removing the tree from their yard, had already called the insurance company, and would let them know what I heard. It took a long time due to the backup from more serious claims, but an adjuster finally came out and I got the full report (and the check) about two weeks ago. I had assumed that I would be responsible since a tree from my property destroyed their fence, but the adjuster's report said that because the tree was healthy (no visible rot, insect damage, disease, etc...) and it was uprooted by the force of the wind alone (ruled an "Act of God") we were not responsible. We got a check to cover the removal of the tree and that was it since no property of ours was damaged. I called the adjuster and asked them about it to be sure and the adjuster said "Don't worry about it, their insurance will cover the damage to their property, it happens all the time."

    Today I saw the guy in the backyard for the first time in months and he asked me what the insurance company had said. I told him and his demeanor changed instantly. He shot back at me with "That's not what my agent said-he said that your policy will cover it-you're responsible and it's an eyesore, it's been six months and it needs to be fixed." I reiterated what the insurance company said and he told me he wanted to see it in writing. All I got in writing was a letter saying what the check covered-the information from the adjuster about the tree falling being an "Act of God" was given to me verbally over the phone. Furthermore, this guy is a complete stranger to me and I'm not just going to hand him documents with my information on them. I called the insurance company today to talk to the adjuster but they seem as swamped as ever and I'm thinking it's going to take them a long time to get back to me. I don't want to have issues with this guy and I liked it better when we didn't talk to each other at all, but I'm not going to pay for his fence with money I don't have (my wife has been unemployed for almost a year) if I'm not legally obligated to. If his tree fell on my car and he was deemed not responsible (their driveway is adjacent to ours) I doubt he'd be falling over himself to buy me a new car. Anybody ever been in a situation like this?

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  2. lukem

    lukem Minister of Fire

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    Explain to him what happened one more time and give him your insurance rep/adjuster's contact information. Let his and your insurance companies duke it out over who is liable. That's what they do and that's part of what you pay them for. That's what I'd do anyway.
  3. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    I have heard countless stories just like this one over the years, and some of them have become nightmares. Your insurance adjuster is correct, the burden usually falls (no pun intended) upon the owner of the property where the tree falls. In states such as Maryland, a home does not have to be insured except at the insistence of the lienholder, and many older folks whose home has been paid off will let the insurance lapse to save money. In my neighborhood, there was an incident where a young couple's tree fell on a neighbors car, and they went though the same thing you did. The lady who owed the car decided to wage a passive/aggressive war on the couple such as making odd accusations and hanging sheets with homemade signage with rude and inapproprate remarks. They couldn't even get the police to help, as the woman was really not breaking any laws, and was not threatening anyone. It nearly caused them to move, but one look at the crazy old woman's display would scare any potential buyers away.

    I would call your insurance agent, or if not agent a rep, and INSIST that this ruling be given to you in writing. You are paying for this service, there is no reason not to provide you with documentation in a timely manner. Then give it to your neighbor along with the agent's phone number, and let his company and yours duke it out. Be polite. If this doesn't get you anywhere, I will bet they have insufficient insurance.
    heat seeker likes this.
  4. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    That's exactly what I'm afraid of this turning into. I called my insurance company and spoke with the adjuster's supervisor who reiterated what the adjuster had told me. She offered to speak with him so I sent him all of her contact information and hopefully this will be the end of it. She did tell me that he hypothetically could take me to small claims court, but that my insurance company would provide defense, and in her opinion, a judge would take one look at the phrase "Act of God" in the report and throw it out immediately. She actually informed me that I wasn't even liable for removing the debris from my neighbor's yard and by rights could have just lopped the branches off at the fence line and left them there. Even if I had known that at the time I still would have removed all of the debris from their yard because it was the neighborly thing to do. As soon as the weather cleared I was out there working with the saw in HIS yard and tossing the debris from the tree over into MY yard. Four of my other neighbors (who thankfully had no damage at all) came over to help me and within 24 hours after the tree falling it was completely cleaned up. I can't afford to fix this guy's fence for him but I feel like I've done the right thing so far and am a little taken aback at him pressing me to take responsibility, partially because it makes me wonder if he's going to now harbor a grudge over this. I sent the guy a polite e-mail explaining all of this and even offered to cut and remove some of the damaged arborvitae from his yard that was smashed by the tree because he doesn't have a truck. Between that and the fact that I cleaned up the debris from my tree in the first place, again, I feel like I'm being a good neighbor here unless I'm missing something. Regardless, something tells me I'm going to be planting a lot of forsythia along my western property line this year.
  5. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    In CT, unless the tree owner knew the tree was dangerous beforehand, the problem belongs to whomever's property the tree landed on. At least once a year I have to clean up a neighbor's tree that falls in my yard. One is so big, about 3 to 4 feet in diameter at the base, that it's staying where it fell. I'm not paying to remove it, and it's not the neighbor's responsibility. As for the smaller trees, I just cut them up and throw the pieces into his yard, and he hasn't complained yet.

    I think that law is wrong, but it's the law. And I get to use my chainsaw now and again.
  6. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    Badfish, I figure that you've gone above and beyond to be a good neighbor. If he can't accept all that you've done, plant forsythia and go on with your life. You just can't please some people. I've had good neighbors and crappy neighbors, and have found out you just can't get along with some folks.
    Swedishchef likes this.
  7. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    Badfish, it looks like you have done all that you can. I feel for you, and wish you the best. I hope you don't have to plant that forsythia!!:)
  8. lukem

    lukem Minister of Fire

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    You are, he's not. Don't loose sleep over it.
  9. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks all. I just feel the need to check myself in these types of situations. It's kind of weird-my wife and I grew up with no neighbors really. We both grew up in rural areas with woods around us so there was never any worry about whether the property owner next to you was upset about anything. That's what we wanted, but at the time we bought, we had to settle for a quarter acre lot in an older subdivision. Most of our neighbors are great, we BBQ, our kids play together, we help each other out, but like I said, these folks always kept to themselves so it was hard to get a read. Nothing wrong with that of course, but like I said I don't want that to change on account of this.
  10. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    They probably keep to themselves because they can't get along with others - ya think? Probably flunked sandbox in kindergarten :p.
    Enjoy your good neighbors!
    raybonz likes this.
  11. I'd tell him the debris removal cost exceeded the value of the fence. And that you weren't going to send him a bill, being a good neighbor and all, but if he insists...

    No sense in trying to fix bad neighbors. Long story but I once had a neighbor accuse me of stealing water that was draining off his land into my pond. Fixed that with a nice big 150' berm that flooded his back yard with 18" of standing water every spring.
    yooperdave and firefighterjake like this.
  12. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    ;lol In reality the debris removal (minus the stump grinding-that came later) only cost me burgers, hotdogs, and sodas for the families of the guys who came over to help that day. None of us had power so we had a BBQ/marshmellow roast in the backyard. Needless to say I have a lot of great neighbors, but I guess there's always one...
  13. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    The "act of God" you-fix-your-side-I- fix-my-side rule is what usually gets applied here except for if negligence is involved as mentioned above.

    In the Feb blizzard a big pine from next door fell into my yard across the neighbor's chin link fence. Pretty much all he was left with was the stump if he cut off what he needed to to fix his fence. I was planning on cutting it at the property line and dragging it off to slab it up but several weeks later his wife dropped by to ask permission to go on the property and clean it up. So we told 'em to have at it and if they wanted just leave the branches where they lie - just don't pile them up as they'll disappear quicker.
    They bent the top rail of the fence back into place and tied the chain link back to it in under an hour.

    I really didn't need that pine tree. I have 20 or 30 more that are not hanging over fences.

    I should have made a claim to pay for removing the tree ? :)
  14. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    No doubt about it. Let the insurance companies duke it out rather than getting bad feelings with neighbors.
  15. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Dunno - I don't want to start a rukous, by why is this fellow being considered a bad person because he doesn't want to deal with a tree that is not his? If it were my tree I guess I would feel some sort of obligation to make things right. If a horrible wind blew your fishing boat into his yard, does he get to keep it? It was an Act of God. Why would a tree be any different?
    daveswoodhauler likes this.
  16. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    I don't think the man wanted the tree--he wanted his fence repaired. Badfish cleaned up the debris and called his Ins. Co., said Ins. Co. said not responsible. Heck, I'm sure if the neighbor wants the tree, Badfish will share...not:)
  17. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    There are a lot of folks out there that do not want to file insurance claims as inevitably the rates rise, if the neighbor can convince someone else to fix it without calling insurance he is better off. Even calling an insurance company to see if you are covered for a claim is recorded and may be used to justify rate increases.
    firebroad likes this.
  18. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, I kinda get it, but on the same hand his tree now caused the neighbor a problem (fence) that wouldn't be there without the tree falling. Kinda like no fault insurance. Again - I don't have real strong feelings one way or the other, but I wouldn't like it if somebody caused me unnecessary work (dealing with ins co. the battle over who pays, etc.)

    A perfect world would be to let the ins co. battle it out, on this, I will agree.
  19. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    I understand your point, and Peakbagger's, too. I only had the one tree land in my yard, and it only damaged the other guy's fence! Just another way for the Insurance guys to trim their own liabilities; after Hurricane Isobel, State Farm quickly sent out letters to their clients stating that they will no longer be responsible for flood damage. I noticed that my premiums did not decrease...
  20. Delta-T

    Delta-T Minister of Fire

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    I'm actually a bit surprised that the respective ins. companies did not ask for each others information to handle this in a professioanl like manner. they should know that this is the type of thing that causes friction. now its escallated to a "my insurance guy said your insurnce guy should handle it" from both sides.
    Jags likes this.
  21. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    I should know how it works in a few months. I have a dead one that can only fall one way and that is on my neighbor's fence whether I cut it or just let it rot and fall.

    Film at 11.
  22. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    YIKES!
    I had one like that that was in decline. My then 96-year old neighbor expressed concern that it would fall over and hit her house. After she said this a few times, I got someone to take it down for me for $200. She came out later and was bewildered as to why I had it cut down.:rolleyes:
  23. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    I guess my issue here is that originally when I had approached them I said "I'll call my insurance company and let you know what I hear," and they said that they would do the same. Clearly he did not actually talk to his insurance company, if he did, they would have sent an adjuster out and they would have cut him a check for a new fence, end of story. The law (at least in NJ) is very cut and dry on this according to my insurance company. His insurance company would never have told him such a thing, which means he's not being honest with me. If he were to say to me, "Look I get that you're not responsible but I don't think that's fair, can we work something out?" I'd be a little more inclined to do so. Even still, it would not be easy since, as I stated before, my wife is out of work and has been for some time. It's not as if I can just write the guy a check and go on with my life. Money is pretty tight for us right now. I WISH my insurance had covered this (I can't force them to of course) because that way, his property would be made whole and I wouldn't see any out-of-pocket expenses. Sure, maybe my premiums will go up next year, but that's a gradual cost increase I could live with, rather than a lump sum payment right now.
    Jags likes this.
  24. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    It is three hundred yards to his house. I think it will miss it. Materials to fix the fence will run me twenty-five or thirty bucks.
  25. Bster13

    Bster13 Minister of Fire

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    I've heard of sending a certified letter to a neighbor who has a tree you are worried about stating as such. If you do that you may not have to pay or make a claim if their tree falls on your stuff. Anyone else heard of this?

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