Your homeowners insurance often covers more than just the building you live in. If you have what is known as "other structures" coverage, the policy pays for damage to fences, gazebos, sheds and detached garages. The payout is usually limited to 10 percent of the house's coverage. But whether or not you're covered depends on your particular policy: some policies don't separate coverage for other structures from the rest of the policy, and some don't cover other structures at all.
Tree on Fence
If a tree falls on your fence and you have other-structures coverage, you're in luck: your insurer is responsible for repairing the fence and removing the tree. It doesn't matter whether it's your tree or one from your neighbor's property: you're still covered. Some policies pay out extra money -- typically up to 5 percent of the other-structures coverage -- for tree removal. Any costs greater than your coverage or less than your deductible are, of course, all yours to pay.
If the tree misses the fence and just lies in your yard, you're not so lucky. Homeowners' insurance doesn't pay to remove fallen trees unless they land on a man-made structure. Even if it hits your fence, your insurer may not remove the whole tree -- just enough to get repairs done, leaving you to handle the rest of the job. If a tree is leaning ominously, on the brink of crushing the fence, there's also no coverage for preemptively cutting it down.
If it's your neighbor's tree and it was at high risk for falling, your insurer may try recouping its loss by holding him liable. You have the same option if, say, the damage to the fence doesn't exceed your deductible. If you can show he knew about the problem and didn't take action, his insurance might pay for your losses. Proving negligence is a long shot, however, unless you can provide written evidence that you raised the issue with him and he ignored it.
If you see one of your neighbor's trees is a risk to your property, it's a good idea to talk to him about it. He might agree to remove the tree in advance; if not, sending him an email or two will provide some proof of his liability if the tree causes damage later. If a tree falls on your fence, take photos of the damage. For example, if your neighbor removes the tree to avoid any liability claims, you then have evidence about the cause of the damage.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.