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Homeowners insurance and trees

Look out your car window and, sometimes, between the billboards, you can see a tree. In the good old days before we started covering the land with concrete, there used to be whole forests. Now the trees are gone and the ground is covered up, all we get are floods - the water can no longer soak into the ground and disappear. Of course, some of us keep trees as pets in our yards. We miss the old times and enjoy watching something big and green growing up into the sky. And yet. . . Have you ever wondered what holds the trees upright? Yes, these wonders of nature do grow up into the sky but, to ensure they don’t just fall over every time the wind blows, they develop big root systems. Many of these roots spread underneath our homes and can cause problems with the foundations. Some roots go the other way and produce that delightfully uneven sidewalk our old folk like to trip over when their eyesight’s not so good.

If the roots from one of your trees produces cracks in your neighbor's home, or a stranger passing by falls over a cracked sidewalk, you can face a claim. This will usually be covered under the liability section of the policy. You can also face enforcement action from your local council. Local laws usually entitle the council to order you to remove “dangerous” trees and make good the sidewalk. If you refuse, the council can come on to your land, remove the tree and send you the bill. Whoever's responsible for maintaining the road outside your home is likely to have similar powers. Completely removing a large tree can be an expensive business. Unfortunately, your insurance policy only covers you when your trees cause loss or damage to others. It does not pay out for preventive work to cut back the branches or roots. You get to pay the tree surgeon to do that out of your own savings.

When the snow and ice builds up on the branches, the additional weight can bring them down. This is where your study of the policy terms can pay off. Most policies pay for the repair of your own home or garage if a tree blows over or heavy branches fall through the roof. The unknown is whether the policy will also cover the cost of removing the tree or branch. Hiring men with chainsaws and a truck to remove the pieces does not come cheap. If the tree simply falls to the ground without damaging any structure, the chances of a successful claim for removal are small. Remember if your tree falls on your car, only comprehensive cover will get you back on the road. There are standard terms covering storm damage and, damage caused by falling branches or lumps of ice from trees is usually included.

The fact the northeast has just experienced record snow for October should convince you of the need to review your homeowners insurance policy. In 2010, the Insurance Information Institute reports total claims of $2.6 billion for winter storm damage alone. The weather is causing an increasing amount of damage and, unless you have good cover from your homeowners insurance policy, you might find it difficult to repair your home.

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