Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Jeremy


#1

Posted by John Merchant on December 28, 2010 at 22:53:19:

The right to trim anything your side of the fence or prop line has come from Eng. Common Law and is the law in most, maybe all, states.

As you say this doesn’t stop claims against the trimmer so that’s why ins.is still most effective protection. Doesn’t cost much to file a suit, no matter how worthless it might be, and much better to let the pros in claim defense handle such.


#2

Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Jeremy

Posted by Jeremy on December 28, 2010 at 10:20:51:

Hello,

I have been selling vacant land in Florida for quite some time and have been asked the question a few times, but never had an exact answer. So I figure I would reach out to see if I could get an exact answer from someone.

I deal with vacant building lots, only 10,000 square feet, but in the area I sell, the lots are heavily treed. I get asked the question quite a few times, “What happens if a tree falls on the neighboring property”. My response is always “To be honest I do not know 100% what the answer is”.

Now my most logical thought is that of course the owner is liable because they own the tree on their property. However even with the hurricanes we have had down here, I have never heard of an instance of this or anything.

Any kind of help or advice would be appreciated.


#3

insurance - Posted by ken in sc

Posted by ken in sc on December 29, 2010 at 06:49:05:

I, like the others, dont know the law in Florida. I have dealt with a few trees falling though. Being insured, I learned something interesting. If the tree looks dead, then you as the property owner are not insured. You should have cut that dead tree, thus it is your fault. If the tree looked alive, then your are insured. I had a tree fall on a neighbors house, over 20K in damage. The core of the tree was dead, but since I couldnt see that and it had green leaves and thus looked alive, my insurance paid the bill.

This may or may not affect your situation, but might be good to know and it would be god to check any dead trees that might cause an issue.


#4

Re: Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Beachbum

Posted by Beachbum on December 28, 2010 at 21:54:47:

As a long time property manager, this is an issue that comes up frequently.
1)Your standard response SHOULD be, I don’t know, check with your attorney!
2)The reality is, if a tree falls and damages a structure or anything of significance, or blocks access for the adjacent property owner, from THEIR perspective, the vacant property owner is responsible, and usually they will make every attempt to have that party fix the situation and make them whole again. Depending on any existing relationship, and/or the ease of determining and contacting the property owner, They may clean up and repair the mess, then file an insurance claim, or sue outright for damages. Of course, they may not be able to afford to do anything, including clean up/removal!
3) The results will be dependent on the local laws, and the “fine print” of any particular insurance policy.

I have, as PM, filed insurance claims and been reimbursed expenses by the vacant land owner’s carrier for just such a situation.

I also, routinely, run into situations where a neighbor complains about a tree overhanging their yard that needs trimming. The LAW here states the neighbor is free to trim anything on his side of the fence. In practice, if he kills the tree in doing so, now it’s HIS problem! Normally, we go ahead and trim the entire tree just to be a “good neighbor”.


#5

Re: Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Herb

Posted by Herb on December 28, 2010 at 21:50:56:

I don’t have an answer to your question but I used to buy and sell many lots in Florida when the market was hot. Are you actually investing in lots that have many houses around them? In my experience most of these lots are vacant for blocks and blocks with no houses in sight.

I am curious to hear what’s going on with land sales in Florida lately. I am under the impression the market remains depressed.


#6

Insulate! - Posted by John Merchant

Posted by John Merchant on December 28, 2010 at 14:29:08:

Insulate by having your LLC or Corp take title and then having IT carry full P&C Insurance policy covering it, its officers and you of course.

Using a registered entity to be in title acts as somewhat of a barrier and if you’re carrying full liability coverage any claims that were then made would be met by your ins. co, its lawyer, etc.

We have the same ongoing too-tall trees falling in winter storms problem and anybody’s tall tree might be downed by storm winds, etc. and fall on somebody else’s roof. I had a neighbor who got so worried about this a few years back that he paid some sizeable bucks to have a big fir tree removed.

I’m constantly amazed that so few such trees here in
Pac NW do fall on roofs and injure property or people…and I’d bet resulting deaths are fewer in all Pac NW than 3 a year.


#7

Re: Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Dan (NY)

Posted by Dan (NY) on December 28, 2010 at 13:17:33:

I am also not a lawyer and am not giving advice but have had some recent experience with this problem and can tell you how it is addressed in NY.

If the tree falling is an act of nature, then each landowner is responsible for the portion of the tree which has landed on their property. The exception to this is if a neighbor has given written prior notice that an unsafe situation exists. Then the landowner can be determined to be negligent and held responsible for damages.

Hope that his helps!


#8

Re: Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Dan (NY)

Posted by Dan (NY) on December 28, 2010 at 13:17:21:

I am also not a lawyer and am not giving advice but have had some recent experience with this problem and can tell you how it is addressed in NY.

If the tree falling is an act of nature, then each landowner is responsible for the portion of the tree which has landed on their property. The exception to this is if a neighbor has given written prior notice that an unsafe situation exists. Then the landowner can be determined to be negligent and held responsible for damages.

Hope that his helps!


#9

Does a falling tree make a noise… - Posted by Rick the Probate Guy

Posted by Rick the Probate Guy on December 28, 2010 at 12:17:08:

First of all, my standard caveat: I am not a lawyer, nor am I familiar with Florida ‘timber’ and tort laws.

That said, I think that it wouldn’t be too far reaching for an adjacent homeowner to attempt to hold the offending land owner with “dangerous nusance trees” liable and try to get money from you or your insurance company.

Now I think that there are several strategies here that you might take. One is to purchase insurance, expensive as it is in FL, to cover your exposure.

Or, you might consider self-insuring the first X dollars and get an umbrella policy for the overage.

Another strategy is to protect your other assets with holding entities and tactical actions like protective mortgages, options and impass easements which make your assets otherwise useless to any would-be, third-party plantiff wishing to get a judgment and writ against you.

I think you are wise to ask good questions now before any problems appear. Have you researched this at all? Any prior case law in FL? Yours would NOT be the first to have a tree land on another’s property.

We’ve just got over a heavy rainstorm here in SoCal in which old established trees are beginning to topple under the added weight and saturated soil. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see aq TV newsman interviewing an owner of a crushed car or home.

“How did you FEEL when your cranky neighbor was crushed by that oak?” they would ask.


#10

Re: Question on Liability with Vacant Land - Posted by Phil-TX

Posted by Phil-TX on December 28, 2010 at 10:36:54:

Hi Jeremy,

As I read your post, I wondered what I would do if I
were you. My thoughts are:

To get an opinion from the Attorney General of
Florida;

Call an attorney at a Title Company you have been
doing business with-he should know the law and be able
to tell you without charging for the info;

Call a good independent insurance agent.

Happy New Year!


#11

Readnheed! nt - Posted by John Merchant

Posted by John Merchant on December 29, 2010 at 12:01:22:

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