SALEM, Ore. — Jodi and Steve Hack said it felt like an earthquake when their huge oak tree came crashing down.
The massive tree knocked down power lines and several smaller trees in its path. It stretched across the front yard of their Salem home and into the street. Nobody was injured but it created a huge mess.
The Hacks figured homeowners insurance would cover the clean-up estimated at more than $7,000. Turns out, they’re out of luck.
"We thought as a homeowner, you have your coverage and whatever is damaged they are going to put it back to the original condition. That is not the case," said Jodi Hack, a state representative from Salem.
If a tree falls down and causes no damage to your house, your homeowner’s insurance policy typically won’t help cover the cost of removal. You’re on your own.
“I think it is probably a misconception for us, and I'm sure there are many other people that feel the same way,” explained Hack. “You think that everything is covered because it affects your property values, but they focus on the dwelling and not the rest."
Consumer liaison Kevin Jeffries of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services says it is common for homeowners to have questions about insurance coverage after tree damage.
"It really depends on where on the property it falls," explained Jeffries. “If it missed the house, there's not much coverage there. You are not insuring the driveway or the sidewalk, you are insuring your home."
If a storm knocks down a healthy tree and it hits your house, homeowners insurance would help cover the damage.
If a neighbor’s tree falls onto your house, you will need to file a claim. “Your homeowners insurance would pay for that,” explained Jeffries.
Trees crashing onto the street are often handled by local city or county crews. If not, you may be responsible for the cost of removing a tree from the street.
The Division of Financial Regulation provided the following tips for tree damage:
- If a tree falls on your house, your homeowner policy should cover the damage. If the tree belongs to a neighbor, your insurance company will investigate whether there is any responsibility on the part of the neighbor.
- Homeowner policies generally pay to remove debris from your home or outbuildings if a falling tree causes damage. However, if a tree falls and does not damage the residence, the typical policy does not pay to remove the tree.
- If you have trees that present a danger, you should remove them at your expense.
- If the wind blows a few shingles off your house, your insurance company will likely replace the damaged shingles, but will not provide you with an entirely new roof. Repairing the damage done by the “covered loss,” in this case the wind, is the company’s responsibility. Home maintenance is your responsibility. If a tree falls on your car, the damage may be covered if you have comprehensive insurance, which covers you for physical damage other than collision. This type of insurance is optional. While we are required to carry liability insurance to pay for damage we cause to others, Oregon law does not require us to buy insurance to protect our own property.