Trees not on your property may still be your responsibility

It happens every year: Homeowners living next to a public right-of-way discover the hard way that they are responsible for maintaining the trees and vegetation in the right-of-way area.

The realization usually hits when a tree in the right-of-way falls and lands on their home. Seattle and other local jurisdictions have ordinances that hold homeowners responsible for damage caused by street trees that are not planted by the city or county. It doesn't matter that the trees are outside your property line. Here's now SDOT Urban Forestry Arborist Nolan Rundquist explains it:

"The city's responsible for trees that we have planted, but anything growing in a street right-of-way, adjacent to somebody's property, is a tree that's regulated by Seattle Transportation, but not maintained by Seattle Transpiration."

Rundquist says it's been a law in Seattle since the seventies. If the city plants trees along the parking strip, or along a city-created residential street divider, the city takes care of the trees. If not, the responsibility falls to whomever owns the adjacent property- even if the trees are wild. The same laws that hold homeowners responsible for maintaining a public-right-of way next to their property gives cities or counties the right to regulate the righ-of way. In order to legally remove problem street trees, you need a permit. Some cities will issue the permit for free, but you have to pay for removal.

Bottom line: If you live next to any public right-of way that has any kind of vegetation but especially large trees, contact your city or county utilities or transportation department to make sure you know where you stand in the event the trees suddenly stop standing.

People who do not live near a right-of-way but are concerned about their own trees can contact their city or county arborist, the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture or the American Society of Consulting Arborists to assess the condition of their trees. There may be a fee for the consultation. And consider the potential cost of ignoring problem trees in your yard. Contact your insurance company for clarification about who pays, if your trees damage your neighbor's property, of if someone else's trees damage your property.

SDOT's Urban Forestry has a website {<}{>} with more information, including a map of trees which were planted and maintained by the city, and information on how to find out if your trees in the Seattle area are stable, healthy, or your responsibility.