Michigan lawmakers update old adage

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Image: Carolyn Cuskey

By Eric Freedman

An old philosophical question asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

But a more practical question today might be: “If your neighbor’s tree falls on your roof, who is responsible for the damage?”

A new House bill tries to answer that question.

It would make the owner of the property where the tree was growing responsible for any damage “caused by any part of the tree falling on the adjacent property, regardless of whether the tree falling was an act of God,” such as heavy winds or lightning.

“Currently, if a neighbor’s tree falls in your yard and smashes your fence, you as an innocent homeowner are liable, and this isn’t right,” said Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, the lead sponsor of the proposal.

That may mean the innocent neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance policy may cover the damage, but a claim could lead to higher insurance premiums, he said.

Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township

Berman said he’s dealt with the question as a homeowners association president and as a lawyer, but the issue arose again recently with an email from a constituent.

“I contend, and my constituent said, a lot of times it is the negligence of the tree owner to properly maintain it and trim the branches,” Berman said, adding that there should be “some personal responsibility.”

He noted that a 1909 state law imposes a duty on owners to remove trees that fall on a highway, but that law says nothing about trees falling on neighbors’ property.

“We need a law on the books saying who is responsible. A lot of times it ends up with neighbor disputes,” Berman said.

The cosponsors are Reps. Alex Garza, D-Taylor, Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, and Douglas Wozniak, R-Shelby Township.

The bill is pending in the House Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee.

5 thoughts on “Michigan lawmakers update old adage

  1. Sometimes when the government tries to fix something that does not need fixed, they just make it worse. Perhaps the solution is to just to away with trees. I would submit that when gale force winds hit, both parties are innocent victims. Do not let the insurance companies for either party, tree owner or the neighbor, raise the rates

  2. If you’re DTE Energy or Consumers, you can have some of the worst tree trimming programs in the nation and your infrastructure can electrocute people in Detroit with impunity. If you’re a homeowner, you can suffer the full liabilities of events out of your control.

    Um, no thanks.

  3. And what if the property belongs to a municipality? Are they responsible for keeping all trees bordering homes trimmed? Seems like an expensive situation that would then get passed onto taxpayers.

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