Author Topic: What would you do in this situation?  (Read 2077 times)

argentstache

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What would you do in this situation?
« on: January 10, 2019, 03:03:26 PM »
Background: we live abroad, but own a home in DC to which we will be returning this summer. I just received an email from our tenants that while they were at work today, and with absolutely no notice to anyone, our next door neighbor had one of our trees cut down. Apparently, there was a lot of wind today and the tree started leaning and looked like it might fall on her house. Without consulting anyone (and thinking that the tree would fall imminently), the neighbor called a tree service, had them go into our yard and cut it down. She is now seeking full reimbursement from us for the $3800 bill from the tree service. On one hand, I'm happy that there was no damage to her house. On the other, I find her actions galling. Also, the timing is terrible. DH is a fed who is affected by the shutdown. Due to our mustachian ways, we can easily afford the $3800 payment, but it isn't fun. Part of me is inclined to offer say, 50-75% of that amount and see what happens. Would love some feedback.

Fi(re) on the Farm

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2019, 03:19:18 PM »
If the tree had fallen on her house your insurance would have covered the damage minus the deductible. Not that I'm saying it's okay for her house to get damaged but she took it up herself to decide the tree was a threat. Did she say anything prior to this about the state of the tree? I think you should offer to split the cost with her.  She probably will disagree but I don't think she has a legal leg to stand on.

former player

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2019, 03:20:29 PM »
Your neighbour will probably claim they were acting under a legal principle called an "agency of necessity" and that you are required to reimburse them as a result.  You could probably question whether 1) the work really was needed so urgently, 2) your neighbour had no way to get in touch with you or your tenants before undertaking the work, 3) whether the cost incurred was reasonable.   If you can convincingly argue any of these then you might not be liable to pay. (Please note: internet legal opinion, worth what was paid for it.)

Given the amount, your neighbour might turn litigious if you don't pay, and as you are intending to return to live in this house you are going to be living next to this neighbour again.   Your call, I guess.


nereo

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2019, 06:14:04 PM »
I have no real-world experience here, but isn't this a case where your homeowners insurance might step in anyway?
Why not give them a call and ask if this is something where a claim could be made? 
If the tree had fallen on her house your insurance would have covered it - so if it were 'imminently in danger' of falling...

mozar

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2019, 06:52:22 PM »
Whoa! I'm pretty sure it's illegal to cut down a tree on someone else's property. Also, at least in my state (Maryland) you have to get a special permit to cut down a tree over 6 feet tall. They could be fined for this.
https://statelaws.findlaw.com/dc-law/property-line-and-fence-laws-in-washington--d-c-.html

The_Pretender

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2019, 09:52:06 AM »
I would not pay them anything for cutting down a tree from my property.  If this were to be my property, I would talk to them about paying for a tree to replace the one they cut down.  Not some twig, but a more mature tree.  This tree provides shade and value to your property.   

They came on your property without notice and cut down your tree, thus altering your property...  I value trees on my property for both shade and appeal to the property.  Did your neighbor get multiple quotes?  Did your neighbor have the tree inspected to see if it was a danger (Rotten or infested)?  Did they cause any damage to your property (tire indents, holes in the yard....) you would need to repair?

My response would change if you had a plan for this tree to be removed at some point in time.  Then I would offer two things... pay your neighbor up to your deductible on your homeowners insurance, as you would use this in the event the tree would fall down.  Or call your insurance to see if submitting a claim would be worth it's time... 

Like someone stated already, you plan to move back home so you would like to keep this civil.  Also, maybe leverage the gov. shutdown as a delay to figuring out the best option?  Ask why they did not reach out to you before?  Provide examples of how they'd feel if you incurred an expense to change their property and then come to them holding out your hand asking to be thanked and paid for the cost...

SunshineAZ

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2019, 10:06:15 AM »
Wow, this is an interesting situation.  Personally, I would be livid if someone took it upon themselves to remove a tree from my property without any notice and then had the nerve to send me the bill.  I am posting to follow, since I am really interested to see how this plays out.  Unfortunately I do not have any advice except to say that if it was me, I would need some blood pressure medicine.  :)

I hope that the issue gets resolved amicably. 

Mrs.MLM

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2019, 10:12:13 AM »
I wouldn't pay her a dime. In fact, I would pay an attorney $3,800 to defend me in small claims court rather than give her the money. The gall!

Asalted_Nut

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2019, 10:15:08 AM »
I have come to learn from another online forum that there is something called (officially or unofficially, not sure) "Tree Law". And there are litigators who specialize in (unlike bird-law), "tree law". There have been several stories recently of neighbors who took it upon themselves to cut down trees that weren't on their property, and it seems in most of those cases they were ordered by the court to pay the cost of making you whole (IE what it would cost to plant, and establish, an identical tree). In some cases they even mention something called "treble damages", in which case you are entitled to a multiple amount of money of what the damages are.

For example if an arborist says the tree was worth $1k per year of life, and it was ten years old, the damages would be $10k and treble would bump it up to 30k, or something like that.

In general the advice seems to be to hire an arborist to determine the value of the tree that was cut down, and then reach out to a lawyer who knows something about "tree law" if you wanted to pursue.

Edit to add: Not knowing the relationship between the neighbor or the type of tree, I wouldn't say that what I would do would be take them to court. But if they were just using the wind as an excuse (maybe the tree blocked a view?) and the tree was such that replacing it wouldn't be feasible.. I don't know. Certainly would think twice about reimbursing them, unless we had a good relationship and I could trust that they were doing it out of fear for their home/having a tree come through their roof onto their heads.

Another avenue could be reaching out to the tree company that cut it down and see if they thought they tree actually was leaning/a danger?
« Last Edit: January 11, 2019, 10:36:23 AM by Asalted_Nut »

walkwalkwalk

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2019, 10:45:43 AM »
Saw it on Judge Judy once, it is not okay to cut down other people's trees.

honeybbq

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2019, 10:47:06 AM »
I would sue her for damage to my property.

Juslookin

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2019, 11:12:59 AM »
Insurance does not come into play here, there are no damages and no actual occurrence.

With that being said, what nerve your neighbor had. Have they or anyone else complained about the condition of the tree? Was it dead or alive? Could it be deemed a hazard in any way? If the answers to these questions are in your favor I would tell your neighbor she’s lucky you don’t sue her. Wow, still shocked!!

Brother Esau

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2019, 11:31:10 AM »
I would sue your neighbor for the full value of the tree. At least $100,000 not including legal fees. Not just making that number up either. I had a project once where a contractor mistakenly cut down 4 trees just over a property line. Court awarded $100,000 per tree.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2019, 11:34:40 AM by Brother Esau »

Jon Bon

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2019, 11:34:55 AM »
Was the tree alive?
What kind of lean are we talking about?
How old was the tree?

I mean its a dang tree, you know literally rooted into the ground. Live trees dont usually give warning that they are going to fall. I call BS on her actions and would pay nothing. Even if she had a legit case for this she would have taken her time and documented it.

 She wants you to believe it was:

A. So windy it was in imminent danger of falling down. and

B. She was able to find a tree company, THAT DAY, that would work in THOSE CONDITIONS?! No freaking way, a tree company is not cutting down a tree with winds so high its about to knock the whole thing over. This stinks like yesterdays fish.

I mean talk to your insurance agent and your lawyer friend here but initially, I'd pay zero dollars. Trees are considered acts of god, thus no one is at fault for them, even if it is your tree falling on her house. *In my state, not a lawyer

I'd rather sell the house then live next to someone like that!

slappy

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2019, 12:06:11 PM »
Was the tree alive?
What kind of lean are we talking about?
How old was the tree?

I mean its a dang tree, you know literally rooted into the ground. Live trees dont usually give warning that they are going to fall. I call BS on her actions and would pay nothing. Even if she had a legit case for this she would have taken her time and documented it.

 She wants you to believe it was:

A. So windy it was in imminent danger of falling down. and

B. She was able to find a tree company, THAT DAY, that would work in THOSE CONDITIONS?! No freaking way, a tree company is not cutting down a tree with winds so high its about to knock the whole thing over. This stinks like yesterdays fish.

I mean talk to your insurance agent and your lawyer friend here but initially, I'd pay zero dollars. Trees are considered acts of god, thus no one is at fault for them, even if it is your tree falling on her house. *In my state, not a lawyer

I'd rather sell the house then live next to someone like that!

This is what I was wondering. Does the tree company not care who's property they are on? I imagine if she told them it wasn't her property, they would have declined the work.

socaso

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2019, 02:26:58 PM »
I would be livid if someone trespassed on my property and cut down one of my trees. And I know DC is expensive but that is a holy cow big bill! We had a huge spruce tree removed this summer due to bug infestation and it cost $800 to cut down and haul away.

I wouldn't pay her a dime. How can the law possibly be on her side? Also I'm pretty sure your insurance wouldn't cover a bit of this. We called our insurance when our tree was declared infected and they told us they could only pay if it fell over. I seriously doubt she has anything to back up her claims that the lean of the tree seemed dangerous. If she had bothered gathering any evidence you or the tenant probably would have found out what she was up to.

BicycleB

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2019, 03:23:31 PM »
I would consult a lawyer familiar with your jurisdiction, preferably with some knowledge of tree / arbor cases.

Fun story: according to my friend, "neighbor's tree and then..." cases, in other words fact patterns similar to yours, are a staple in law school classes.

civil4life

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2019, 05:07:05 PM »
I live in Maryland.  You said DC.  There was some wind yesterday, but nothing more than a windy day, not even a storm or wind advisory.

Next I work for local government.  We regularly compensate property owners for taking down their trees as it is considered damages.  We also at a minimum get a right of entry, but in many cases we even purchase the portion of the property we are impacting.  Additionally Maryland requires a Roadside Tree Permit to even trim trees.

Being in a legal fight already for a personal matter the cost is significant.  I would insist that you will not pay a cent.  If they challenge then get a lawyer, but only if you have to.

AMandM

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2019, 05:28:19 PM »
Holy cow!  I would be furious! Especially because the neighbor's story sounds very fishy. Others have given some reasons, and here's another: in DC, if the tree was over 44" in diameter (which I would guess from the cost of the removal), cutting it down requires a special permit from the city and I bet you can't get that same-day, especially for a tree not on your own property. I wonder if the tree company knows it was not the client's property?

I would not pay a dime. I'm not a litigious person (the only time I have ever talked to a lawyer was to draw up our wills), but I would probably call one for this and ask about the legitimacy of suing both the neighbor and the tree company.


former player

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2019, 05:55:33 PM »
Here's the weather forecast for Washington DC airport for 8th to 11th January 2019, which OP might want to screenshot -

https://w1.weather.gov/data/obhistory/KDCA.html

It looks as though on Wednesday 10th the wind was northwesterly between 17 and 24 miles per hour, gusting up to 39 miles per hour, described as "breezy".   On the previous day, Tuesday 9th, there was a brief period of wind in the afternoon - northwesterly 35 mph gusting to 41mph - which might have been strong enough to cause damage to a tree but which was of pretty short duration.

Apart from the weather, the other main evidence issue is the condition of the tree.  Does the neighbour have photographs?  What about the contractor's opinion?  Was an independent expert opinion provided at any point?  Is any of the tree still viewable to see if/how it had been damaged by the wind or had any rot?  Are the roots still in the ground and stable/undamaged?   A further evidence issue is whether there any way for the neighbour to contact the tenant or OP before contracting the work to be done?  Unfortunately I've no idea whether tactically it would be better to ask the neighbour to provide proof that the work was necessary (ie that the tree was so dangerous that immediate cutting down was the only option and that there was no opportunity to contact OP before going ahead) or whether it would be better for OP to try to gather evidence that it was not.


RyaninLA

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2019, 07:03:31 AM »
It sounds like you might end up in small claims court, so start familiarizing yourself with statutory and case law. Definitely don't allow yourself to get "livid" or "furious" -- emotionalism is a handicap in litigious situations. Stay focused on your end-goal of minimizing your expenses and make rational decisions to support that endstate. I would engage with this neighbor to understand all of the facts and their decision-making process, then examine the relevant law and your potential courses of action in light of those facts. Options like 1) Offer to settle, 2) decline with a note  from a tree attorney, 3) pay up in full, 4) don't respond, 5) make a criminal complaint to the DC government...

If it makes you feel any better, I had a DC neighbor's illegal backyard wall fall over in a wind storm and knock over my brand new fence and motorcycle. They wouldn't cooperate with the rebuild where there were issues with previous construction over property lines, so that drug on for a couple years but eventually it was fixed. This kind of cr*pola is an unfortunate reality of city living.

singpolyma

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2019, 07:26:19 AM »
Besides the suggestions that you sue the neighbour for damage to your property, I would also investigate laying criminal charges against the tree service for trespassing.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2019, 07:59:16 AM »
I think the hardest part to believe is that they got a tree service to do same-day work on a dangerously windy day.

Zaga

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2019, 08:33:01 AM »
If a tree from your property falls on their house, you're NOT liable.  It's an act of nature, the only insurance that would have been involved is their homeowners, not yours.

A friend had a tree fall and damage a neighbor's fence, insurance said that he was totally in the clear, though he did help the neighbor clean up the tree.

So no, no way in hell would I pay a penny.

SKL-HOU

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #24 on: January 13, 2019, 06:44:14 PM »
If a tree from your property falls on their house, you're NOT liable.  It's an act of nature, the only insurance that would have been involved is their homeowners, not yours.

A friend had a tree fall and damage a neighbor's fence, insurance said that he was totally in the clear, though he did help the neighbor clean up the tree.

So no, no way in hell would I pay a penny.

^this!

I wouldn’t pay anything either. They did not give you or the tenants any notice. Who is to say it couldn’t have been just trimmed IF (big if) it was really some sort of danger. I would definitely pursue a replacement tree cost or whatever your legal actions are. I wouldn’t care about severing any future neighborly interactions because I believ this was a very good indication of what crappy neighbors they are.

doggyfizzle

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #25 on: January 13, 2019, 08:02:50 PM »
How did the tree service secure permission to access your property to cut your tree down?  I would be furious about trespassing people damaging my property without my consent, and I’d definitely look into asking your neighbor for recompense in this situation.

Fanta

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #26 on: January 13, 2019, 08:35:31 PM »
I call BS.  This could be some neighbor who is tired of leaves blowing in her yard, and used wind as a pretense.  Pay them?  That's a laugh.  I say sue them for as much as you can. 

Laura33

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #27 on: January 14, 2019, 07:36:27 AM »
OK, first thing:  run away from the idea of finding a lawyer to sue, unless you want to spend far more money, time, and stress than you will ever get back.  I'm a lawyer, and all I can say is that hiring a lawyer for a @$3K dispute is the last thing I would ever consider.  If you need to hire one eventually to defend yourself, fine; and if that happens, then yes, you should counterclaim for damages.

What I would do (and please don't consider this legal advice!) is write a polite letter asking for documentation of the need to remove the tree so urgently.  You can express polite concern that they made such a significant decision regarding your property without attempting to reach you beforehand -- including apparently sending third parties onto your property without your permission -- and request firmly-but-nicely that they contact you before doing so again.  You can say something like you're sure they understand that you are hesitant to pay such a significant sum under these circumstances (and if you want you can add a reference to the additional costs you will now need to incur to replace the tree they removed), but that you will certainly consider contributing some portion if they can demonstrate that the situation was so urgent that there was no time to contact you to handle it.

trollwithamustache

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #28 on: January 14, 2019, 07:53:00 AM »
have they provided before and after pictures?


Fanta

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #29 on: January 14, 2019, 08:15:11 AM »
Even if we agree that the tree was about to fall on a house... I'm no tree cutting expert, but how can it be safe to cut down a tree that is in so dangerous a state?  Was it still windy when they were cutting it down? Was there a guy in the tree when it was so windy?  This isn't making any sense to me. Wouldn't a tree that's a risk to come down be, you know, a risk to fall on a tree cutter?

I'm also finding it hard to believe that a tree company would cut down a tree unless they had contact and permission from one of the owners of the property, or at least someone who lived there. 

There has got to be more to this story...

argentstache

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #30 on: January 18, 2019, 03:49:19 AM »
Hey Everyone!!

OP here. Thanks SO much for all the responses. From the thoughtful to the outraged, I really appreciate all of you weighing in. Sorry it has taken me so long to update--it is has been a busy week. SO, here is the update. My tenants are really the best ever. Basically, my tenant called the tree service the next morning and got the full story. The guys from the tree service came and watched the tree for an hour. The root ball was coming up and it really was leaning into the neighbor's house. After seeing how much it changed during the course of the hour, they decided it had to come down. Also, I don't think they actually came on to my property, but cut it down from her side. This was one of the other things that annoyed me--they left a huge stump! My tenant was able to negotiate with the service to come back and remove the stump for free. The service did truly believe it was an emergency situation. and there is apparently a way we can retroactively apply for the permit so we don't get fined. Oh, and to answer other's questions yes there were pictures that did look quite dire.

One of the other reasons I posted here is that I wanted folks to share my outrage and I appreciate that many of you did. It just felt so awful. But my husband was much more pragmatic. He said that if we had been at home, we would have had to pay for it. I still think that the way she handled it was all wrong, but I'm feeling much better about things. We also told her we won't pay till the gov't is reopen as DH is a fed. And, although we are both lawyers, neither DH nor I had any appetite for litigation. Again, being mustachian in general has made the amount less painful.

Thanks again for the input! I appreciate this community.

Zaga

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #31 on: January 18, 2019, 05:36:35 PM »
I'm glad to hear that your neighbors weren't overreacting!

AMandM

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Re: What would you do in this situation?
« Reply #32 on: January 19, 2019, 02:16:02 PM »
Wow, thanks for the update. I'm sorry you lost the tree and the $$, but given that, I'm glad it turned out to be legit.  Those tenants are a treasure!