GROVE – Imagine my great surprise when I learned I was responsible for removing my neighbor’s tree that had fallen into my yard and damaged my home.
Grove was under a tornado warning on Saturday evening. Tornado sirens were blaring and the city and county’s emergency telephone warning system had been activated. Grand Lakers were warned to take shelter.
I wasn’t in Grove, because I was stuck at Books-A-Million bookstore in Joplin, Mo., during a torrential downpour.
The tornado-like strong winds that blew over Grand Lake knocked a 25-foot to 30-foot dead limb from my neighbor’s yard onto my rooftop and damaged the wood stove flue on my roofline. The limb was about 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and due to its position in the tree it was hidden from the average person’s view by lots of green leaves on the other branches.
The guttering and roof was not damaged — that I know of — just a lot of broken limbs on the roof and yard. The flue was knocked off its base and it had a huge dent.
I was confident that since I carried homeowners insurance, I was covered for damage to my home or a structure and its contents from fallen trees that grew on my property.
I also was pretty confident my neighbor’s insurance company would take care of removing a tree or limb that was on his property and had fallen on my property.
I was wrong.
When I called the property manager, who is overseeing the rental property, she told me in Oklahoma the policy is for the homeowner with the damaged property to turn it over to their insurance carrier.
In other words, it’s not my neighbor’s responsibility to take care of the tree on my house and fix my flue.
At first I thought she was wrong, and in a polite way told her I disagreed.
Then I found out I was wrong.
As I dialed the telephone number to the property owner, I said a short prayer and reminded myself I had been a good neighbor to the various renters that lived in the residence over the past seven years. I was so glad when the property had been bought years ago and the homeowner cleaned up the yard and flipped the dilapidated house, making it a nice addition to the neighborhood.
Thankfully, we agreed to attempt to work out an agreeable solution.
“Property damage caused by fallen trees can be the most misunderstood coverage in a homeowners insurance policy,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak.
I learned my homeowners policy will cover damage when the tree is on someone else’s property and has caused damage to my home or property, according to a newsletter sent out by the Oklahoma Insurance Department in March 2013.
“In other words, it is the responsibility of the owner on whose property the tree limb fell to contact their homeowners insurance provider,” the newsletter states.
Yes, there were some outs to this provision — if I tell my neighbor and back it up with written documentation that the tree in his yard is a safety concern for my property and nothing is done, my neighbor could be considered negligent.
This could be true if the tree was in poor health or not properly maintained, Doak said.
“The policyholder’s insurance company may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company in a process known as subrogation,” Doak said. “If the insurer is successful, you may be reimbursed for the deductible.”
Knowing the inclusions and limitations of your homeowners policy can seem tough, but it always helps to check with your insurer any time you sustain damages to check on what is and isn’t covered, he said.
For more information or help with other questions, contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Consumer Assistance Team at (800) 522-0071.