Q: I read your answer about damage from a neighbor’s tree falling on your house being your responsibility and not the neighbor’s. I’ve heard this before, and it’s hard to wrap my head around. I have neighbors on both sides who have planted royal palms, which are now 50 feet tall and would cut a house in half. None of the neighbors asked my permission to plant them. How is that right? —Bruce
A: The law does not always make sense at first glance. While the application of the law may seem arbitrary, there is usually good reasoning to be found if you look. There is often a trade-off or compromise necessary to ensure a functioning legal system and thereby society.
The good reason is that it is better to allow people to protect themselves from inadvertent damage caused by their neighbors’ reasonable use of their property than to subject those neighbors to being told how to maintain their property like and the numerous and often frivolous lawsuits that flow you from doing things that way.
If we let each neighbor decide how their neighbors keep their property and vice versa, chaos will surely ensue. Instead, the law requires each property owner to maintain their property to be healthy and safe, while requiring them to bear the brunt of unintentional damage caused by their neighbor’s vegetation.
Your neighbors must keep their palm trees healthy or they will be liable for damage that could have been avoided.
When a hurricane or tornado passes through a neighborhood, homes are damaged in many ways besides just knocking down trees.
Fortunately, property owners have an excellent tool to protect themselves financially when the unexpected happens – homeowner’s insurance. A healthy tree that damages your home in a storm would be covered by proper insurance, as would if your home had suffered another casualty, such as a fire or flood.
(Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and certified as an expert in real estate law.)