Mature Trees Can be a Selling Point, but Also a Hazard.

Mature trees can be a real selling point in an apartment or condominium community. They add a neighborly ambiance and can serve to reduce utility bills by providing needed shade during hot seasons. They also can help reduce the need to water grass and decorative foliage on common grounds and assist with drainage and soil retention. But trees that aren’t maintained properly can cause expensive problems.

  Unhealthy limbs are hazards all year round, but become especially dangerous during wind, snow and ice events. They can fall and damage cars or structures and can even injure or kill people and pets below. Even healthy limbs can become problematic if allowed to grow too close to building windows, utility lines, balconies or roofs.  

Trees that grow very tall also represent a hazard since they can be blown down or snapped more easily. In some cases, it might take one heavy rain to compromise a root system and allow a 20,000-pound, 60-foot tree to uproot and topple. Microbursts, wind storms, and simple snow or rain storms can lead to massive damage if tall trees are too close to buildings or parking lots.   After a storm, cleanup can also be costly as property managers attempt to clear debris and compromised limbs before they cause damage or injury. Nonetheless, it is an important job that must be accomplished quickly.  

It’s not only falling trees and limbs that present claims exposure for apartment owners and condo associations. If trees are planted too near parking lots or balconies, fire and other damages can occur. For example, a parking lot in a Chicago complex made the news for the amount of damage birds were doing to cars. Droppings are acidic and can destroy automobile paint jobs, and birds have been known to peck at windows, mirrors and shiny doors and hoods, thinking they are defending against an attacker (their own reflection). If a residential complex knows about the problem and does nothing to protect the vehicles, car owners might try to make a claim of negligence.  

Other apartments have reported problems with bee hives and stings because trees are too close to property or parking and are not maintained. In one Colorado town, a lightning strike to a tall tree planted alongside a parking lot caused a fire that destroyed a resident’s vehicle. A lightning-caused fire could do the same to the building or other structures as well. In California, a condo association is grappling with root damage being caused by 32 beautiful redwoods. While neighbors don’t want the trees cut down, the association knows that, allowed to grow, the trees will damage building foundations, sidewalks and parking lots. Many trees have invasive roots, and eliminating the damage often requires removing the trees—an expensive proposition when trees have matured.  

Coverage for Claims   An apartment building or condo association insurance policy typically provides coverage for falling objects, as well as general liability for injuries to other parties or damage to their property as the result of negligence. But damage from roots and damage to others’ property from other tree-associated occurrences may not be insured. That may leave your association or ownership vulnerable to legal and other costs from affected plaintiffs.   

Be sure to consult with your insurance agent to be sure you and your property are properly protected.   

By following good tree-care and landscaping practices and promptly rectifying problems, you can help protect your residential complex from costly property and liability complaints.

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