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Neighbor’s tree just flattened your fence? You’ll still have to pay

A new survey finds that Washington residents have misconceptions about who pays for what when trees cross property lines.
A new survey finds that Washington residents have misconceptions about who pays for what when trees cross property lines. Staff file, 2006

Your neighbor’s Doug fir just smashed your fence, punched a hole in your roof and turned your truck into a convertible.

They have to pay for the damages, don’t they?

No. You do.

But that misconception is held by the vast majority of homeowners in Washington, according to a new poll by PEMCO Insurance Northwest.

Just 18 percent of respondents in the June survey correctly knew they must accept responsibility for repairing a damaged fence when it gets flattened by a cedar branch or other act of nature.

“You are on the hook for your own repairs,” PEMCO spokesman Derek Wing said Tuesday.

It may seem backward, but it’s an insurance industry standard.

If liability had to be established in every case of neighbor versus neighbor destruction, “It would be pretty chaotic,” Wing said.

But there are exceptions, he said. Those include if the tree is obviously sick or dead, or in danger of falling.

Wing urged homeowners to speak to their neighbors about problem trees before they fall.

“A lot of these problems can be solved before they become a really big problem,” Wing said.

In the survey, which contacted 600 Washington residents, 48 percent of homeowners wrongly believed their neighbor’s insurance policy is liable for the damage. Another 21 percent of homeowners believed that a combination of both insurance companies were responsible.

About 76 percent of homeowners in Washington share a fence with a neighbor, and about half of them think they own it, according to the survey.

Your neighbor might have a different opinion on fence ownership and who is responsible for it.

“Maybe this is a good occasion to speak to your neighbor,” Wing said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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