Problem Solvers: what to do when your neighbor’s yard has a troublesome tree

Problem Solvers
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Diane and Mike Freeman have had enough of a large tree in the lot behind their Raleigh home wreaking havoc for the last 20 years.

“I don’t know if the tree is dead or not, but the limbs fall on top of it and on top of the fence. And on top of the house,” they said. “Every time storm come along it damages our fence.”

Overhead drone video also captured images of the large branches strewn across their roof.

They’ve tried doing something about it; first they reported it to their homeowners insurance, but they did that so many times, they lost their coverage. Then they called Memphis code enforcement, but never got any actions. Finally, they tried contacting the people who might be responsible, including the owner of the Lit Junior store in front of the wooded area.

“We’re not sure who owns property. We tried a few people, they say they’ll get back with us like Lit and the church up there. They say they’ll get back with us but they never do,” Mike Freeman said.

That’s when they called the WREG Problem Solvers, back in September.

“I would like to see that cleaned up so we can put our fence up without the worry of all that falling on it,” they said.

To get started, the Problem Solvers checked property records. The closest address, 3292 Austin Peay Highway, shows an owner, Noble Partners. The Problem Solvers went to their office address and found it is the same company as Lit Restaurant Supply. Someone there said the owner would get in touch.

Then the Problem Solvers spoke with insurance agent Marvin Davis to get an idea of what the Freemans and others need to know.

“Homeowners need to understand damage to their property is the responsibility of the homeowner, whether it’s caused by them or a neighbor,” said Davis, the owner of the Fred L. Davis Insurance Agency.

But if it’s been going on this long, they have other options, he said.

For one, in Tennessee, you can cut anything on your property. In the Freemans’ case, that would mean trimming the branches but not cutting the whole thing down.

He also said a homeowner can sue for negligence, especially if a tree is dead or has a long history of issues.

You can also have your insurance company go after the other insurance in a process called subrogation, Davis said.

“I personally have chosen to cut down trees on my own property cause I realize that’s a potential risk to fall on my neighbor’s property. Especially dead trees,” Davis said.

Before the Freemans moved forward with any of these options, we also wanted to know what became of their code enforcement concerns. We sent an email to city officials, who then inspected. Two days later, they issued a violation for a “deteriorated tree.” The Public works director sent this note.. saying code enforcement “found that the property had a dead and deteriorated tree in the rear” that was “falling and damaging neighboring properties.”

The owner of Lit Restaurant Supply also confirmed his company would comply with the order and have the tree removed. The planning took nearly three months. In fact, MLGW even had to get involved; they planned for an eight-hour safety outage while the crews worked.

Finally, the contractor came to cut down the tree, or so they thought. Turned out, the contractor only cut down the part they said was dead, amounting to about one-third of the tree.

“I’m grateful for what has occurred but I expected more,” Diane Freeman said.

She did say she’d be less worried the next time it stormed.

The Problem Solvers checked with code enforcement. They confirmed Lit corrected the violation by removing the dead parts of the tree. It’s a tough lesson for the homeowners, who say they’re now considering legal action to get the rest of the tree cut down.

“You were great and got the ball rolling, fantastic. We really appreciate you. If we could we’d give you a big hug!” the Freemans said.

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