Is tree removal covered by homeowners insurance?

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You might think this would be a simple “yes” or “no” question, but it’s not quite that easy. Tree removal is sometimes covered by your homeowners insurance policy when the reason for the tree falling is related to a named peril, such as a windstorm, fire or vandalism. But there are other times when a fallen tree is your responsibility to remove, and either your insurer won’t pay for it, or the costs are such that it doesn’t make sense to file a claim.

When is tree removal covered by home insurance?

Your insurance policy traditionally covers damages from named perils including fire and smoke, lightning, falling objects and the weight of ice, snow or sleet. In most cases, if a tree falls on your home because of one of these common perils, insurance will cover the cost of removal.

So let’s say you’ve got a small grove of pine trees next to your house, and in a violent windstorm, three of them are knocked over, damaging your roof. After paying your deductible, your insurance should cover the repairs to the roof as well as the removal of the trees.

Note that the trees in this instance fell on the house. But if the trees are far from the house, you may not be covered — it depends on what caused them to fall and whether or not they caused damage to structures on your property.

Here’s another example: the apple tree on your front lawn is struck by lightning and splits in half. Even though there’s no damage to your home, your insurance would be obligated to pay. Why? Because with most standard policies, any damage on your property due to fire or lightning, explosion, riot, vandalism, or an aircraft falling on the property is covered no matter what.

This is a subtle differentiation, and it can understandably cause confusion. To summarize, the removal of a tree anywhere on your property will be paid for if the damage is caused by fire, lightning, or any of the other perils above. But if it’s caused by a snow or wind storm, hail or ice, the coverage only extends as far as your buildings are impacted.

Another factor that will depend on the particular wording of your policy is whether or not the insurer will pay to cover a replacement tree or just the removal of trees. Your policy may cover replacement costs, but you’ll need to talk to your agent to confirm.

When isn’t tree removal covered by home insurance?

As previously mentioned, tree debris removal cost won’t be covered by your home insurance if it is caused by a wind or snow storm, hail or ice, and does not fall on a covered structure present on your property. If it just lands on your lawn, you will likely have to front the cost for removal yourself.

There are a few other instances in which the cost of tree removal is excluded. Regular HO-3 (the most common type of policy) homeowners insurance does not cover damage due to flood or earthquake. If you live in a flood plain, or are in an area that experiences frequent earthquakes, you’ll need either an additional policy or a rider on your existing policy that covers damage due to these circumstances. If a tree needs to be removed based on a flooding event, your standard policy would not cover the cost.

What about rot or old age and disease? Those are typically excluded as well, unfortunately. If your tree is well past its prime, or there is evidence of deterioration, you’ll likely have to pay for removal on your own.

This is where things can get tricky: if you have a tree that falls due to a covered peril, but the insurance adjuster determines it has been damaged or rotten prior to the event of loss, the insurance company may deny liability for payment. The reasoning being that you should have noticed and dealt with the damage before the peril.

Common Exclusions

In addition to exclusions such as age and deterioration, as well as the context of whether or not the tree falling does no structural damage, there are a few other notable situations in which your tree removal would be excluded. One exception is if the tree falls on your driveway or a wheelchair ramp, thus making them impossible to use — then your company may agree to pay for it as you have experienced loss of use.

Another example would be if you are running a business out of your house and the trees are part of that business — say, landscaping or nursery sales. In order to receive a payout for tree removal, you would need to have an additional business rider on your policy to cover it.

All of the above factors apply if the tree that falls on your property originates in a neighbor’s yard, although your insurer may ask the neighbor’s insurance company to cover the damages. If the tree is on your property, but damages a neighbor’s home, the reverse would also be true.

An additional exclusion applies if a tree falls on your car. Your homeowners insurance won’t cover this damage, but your auto insurance might — if you have comprehensive coverage on the car (which pays for non-collision related damage).

Limits for Tree Removal Cost

Coverage for tree removal service is usually limited to 5% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure. Insurers also place a limit on the amount they will reimburse you per tree, generally between $500 and $1,000.

So if the three pine trees we mentioned in the example previously cost $1,500 to remove, and you have a $1,000 deductible, your company would give you a check for $500.

But if the trees cost $3,000 to remove and your maximum per-tree payout is only $500, you would only receive a check for $1,500 regardless of your deductible.

Additional coverages to consider

Your homeowners insurance does not cover every possible calamity. If you have numerous trees on your property and are concerned about future costs, there are two endorsements — or riders — you can add to your policy that will help with any damage to your trees.

Debris removal endorsement

This endorsement isn’t directly related to trees, but it indicates that any clean-up costs following a named peril are covered. That means everything from tree debris removal to cleaning out your house following a fire would qualify.

Debris removal usually has a cap of 25% of your liability for the property loss, but if a windstorm or other peril has created chaos on your property with downed trees, this would still be a significant assist.

This endorsement may also nullify the per-tree removal limit, or increase it — say, from $500 to $1,000. It may also increase the amount of your dwelling or hazard coverage that can be used to remove the trees from 5% to a higher percentage.

Yard and garden endorsement

A yard and garden endorsement can increase your coverage for damage to your lawn and landscaping. So if a tree falls on your lawn and causes any damage to existing shrubs, flowerbeds, or your sprinkler system, this rider can help cover those losses.

This coverage may also extend to damage that results in a business loss for you. Again, you should talk to your agent to find out exactly what your company will cover and what is excluded.

Additional Insurance Coverages

There are two additional types of policy coverage that may impact your ability to receive payment for the loss of your trees, depending on where you live. The first is flood insurance. Floods are not covered in regular homeowners policies, but your insurer can sell you an additional policy that is managed by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Since flooding can weaken a tree’s roots and cause it to fall, it’s wise to consider this additional policy if you live in a flood zone or near any body of water that may cause flood damage to your property. The standard flood policy doesn’t cover debris removal, but your insurer can help you purchase additional coverage that supplements the NFIP program.

Here’s another scenario to consider: if you live in a coastal, hurricane-prone region, your regular policy covers damage caused by the hurricane’s winds, but not the subsequent flooding that may happen as part of the storm. If a hurricane downs trees on your property, your insurer may want to determine if it was the wind or the water that caused them to fall, which could impact your payment.

Earthquakes are also not covered by HO-3 policies, but your insurer will have this additional insurance for removals available if you live in a region that sees frequent tremblers. This coverage often includes mudslides and other related disasters, as well as debris removal. Since trees often fall during earth movement, this type of insurance may be worth considering if you have a heavily-wooded lot.

The takeaway

Whether tree removal is covered by your insurance policy depends on what caused it to fall and where it is.

  • If a tree falls on a covered structure — such as your house — during a named peril, removal will most likely be covered.
  • If the tree falls and doesn’t do any damage, removal coverage will be determined by what caused it to fall.
  • Trees that fall because they are aged, diseased or rotted are your own responsibility.
  • Additional coverages are available, such as earthquake coverage, that may help with removal costs.

Tree removal costs are covered by your homeowners insurance based on determining what caused the tree to fall, as well as where the tree was located. Damage caused by a tree falling on your house or other covered structure is typically covered, and removal generally is as well. If the tree doesn’t land on a structure and there is no damage, removal costs may be up to you. Standard policies offer a maximum of 5% of your total dwelling coverage as payout for tree removal, with a typical maximum of $500 per tree. Endorsements are available that can increase this limit, and your deductible will also come into play during the payout. We recommend you review your policy regularly to ensure you have enough coverage for tree removal.

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