Trees and windstorms: a dangerous pairing
Severe wind and snow storms have wreaked havoc on communities from coast to coast and have significantly contributed to the $1.9 billion in insured damages in 2018 alone.
High winds may bring to mind storm shutters and back up power generators, but another danger lurks right in your yard - trees. Yes, strong storms have regularly been known to rip out even the oldest, most mature, and healthiest trees, especially following long stretches of drought.
So what happens if a tree damages your property? That depends. Most home insurance and comprehensive vehicle policies will cover damage to property and vehicles sustained through no fault of your own. This may include repairs, hotel costs and incidentals like meals and transportation.
However, home insurance policies also require that you maintain your property. If an uprooted tree on your property is found to have been dead or clearly damaged long before the storm, your failure to take proper action with it may be ruled as negligence on your part and impact coverage.
Post-storm debris removal can also be tricky. If no insured structures sustain damage, removing fallen trees is your responsibility, although a small allowance for professional services may be included in your policy. You should always check your coverage before calling for professional services.
If a tree becomes entangled in power lines, do not under any circumstance attempt to remove it yourself and instead alert your local power company as soon as possible.
If a tree falls onto city property and obstructs a roadway or sidewalk, the city will likely send crews to remove it. However, in the aftermath of severe storms it is not uncommon for city workers to be overwhelmed with such calls, so, provided it can be done safely, it may be easier for you to get together with your neighbours and deal with it yourselves.
To avoid unpleasant surprises that storms can bring, be proactive and consider taking the following actions:
- Keep a close eye on the health of trees on your property. Check for split bark, stability and root problems. If you suspect damage, seek professional advice from an arborist. If the tree is on the city property and you think it is not healthy, call the city hall to report the situation.
- Regularly prune overgrown and dead branches. If the branches are from a neighbour’s tree but hang over your property, you may prune those as well.
- When planting new trees, choose sturdy varieties that can withstand all sorts of weather. Make sure you plant at least three feet away from any underground pipes to minimize the risk of interference and damage. If you are unsure on how to locate undergound pipes, contact your local council or power company. Also, ensure that the spot you’ve selected has appropriate soil and drainage so it doesn’t compromise structures such as retaining walls and foundations.
- Check local bylaws for guidance on how to deal with tree removal. As summer heat becomes more severe, some cities are investing in creating urban forests and using tree covers to aid with cooling. Tree protection measures are not uncommon and often trees may be removed only if they pose a hazard to property and/or infrastructure. Before removing any tree on your property, it is a good idea to call the appropriate local authority to clarify your rights and responsibilities to avoid any potential fines and legal action.
The content in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as professional or expert advice. Aviva and the Aviva logo are trademarks of Aviva plc. and are used under licence by Aviva Canada Inc. and its subsidiary companies.