Those trees in your yard can offer practical benefits like shade and shelter from the elements. They may improve your home’s value while offering intangible benefits; throw in a tire swing and a pile of leaves and you have the makings of wonderful memories. Unfortunately, those same trees can cause serious damage to your foundation. While laws and policies vary by state and by policy, chances are your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover it.
Tree roots usually aren't strong enough to penetrate a house foundation. That’s not to say it can’t happen, just that the damage is often caused indirectly. As roots grow and expand they can displace soil, causing it to shift. They can also drain moisture from the ground, which can make the soil dry out and settle. This kind of earth movement is a standard exclusion in most homeowner’s insurance policies, which means you can't file a claim on those grounds.
From an insurance perspective, trees are part of the landscaping and therefore the property owner's responsibility. Your insurer may argue that failing to maintain them constitutes neglect, another standard exclusion on most homeowner policies. If roots from a neighbor’s tree create a problem for you, chances are that -- at least as far as insurance goes -- you’ll be out of luck again. While she could try to file a claim under the liability portion of her policy, she’ll probably meet the same sort of objection from the insurer.
One of the central concepts of homeowner’s insurance is that covered losses must be sudden and accidental. If a storm blew a tree down on your house, for example, that would usually be covered. When tree roots damage a house’s foundation, however, it doesn’t happen all at once. Your insurance adjuster is therefore likely to deny that kind of claim, arguing there was ample time and opportunity to correct the problem before it became serious.
Prevention and Recourse
If your foundation isn't too badly damaged you may have some options. Solving the problem can be as simple as severing the roots and installing a root barrier. While that may not be an inexpensive remedy, it’s almost certainly cheaper than repairing the foundation. If the tree is on a neighbor’s property you can sever the roots that extend onto your property. Depending on the relationship you have with your neighbor, she may be willing to help share that expense. If the roots of her tree are damaging your property that’s called encroachment, just like in football; something or someone is where it shouldn't be. Your neighbor may even be required to remove the roots depending on state or local law.
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