There's a Dead Tree on My Property I'm Not Allowed to Remove, Even Though It Might Cause Damage. Here's Why

When my husband and I came across the opportunity to purchase a new-construction home about 15 years ago, we thought it was a good idea. We’d sold our previous home and were struggling to find existing homes within our price range in the neighborhoods we liked. So we instead opted to stay in our same neighborhood and build a home from the ground up.

Unfortunately, we hit a number of snags in the course of building our home, like extensive delays and unexpected costs that forced us to raid our savings account. But there was an additional snag we hit long after we moved into our home. And it’s one that still haunts us to this day.

When you don’t get complete control over your property

Years ago, my husband and I needed to add a retaining wall to our backyard. When we went to file the permit with our township, we were told the wall couldn’t cover our entire yard because part of it was designated conservation land.

This was news to us. But sure enough, when we read our property survey carefully (something we somehow neglected to do when we first went under contract with our home), we saw that a portion of our backyard was, indeed, a conservation easement.

When you have a conservation easement on your property, the property is still yours. However, there are restrictions in place designed to help conserve the land in its original form. You cannot build a permanent structure on top of conservation land, which is why we had to alter our plans for our retaining wall. You also can’t remove existing vegetation — even if it’s hazardous.

It’s for this reason that my husband and I are stuck with a dead tree on our property. Because it’s in our conservation easement, we’re prohibited from removing it. If it falls in the course of a storm, that’s not something we can be fined for — we can only be fined if we actively remove it ourselves.

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But that’s not much consolation, because if the tree falls during a storm, chances are, it’s going to cause damage to our property. At the very least, I’d expect it to destroy our fence. And at that point, our only recourse will be to file a claim against our homeowners insurance policy and hope the issue at hand is covered.

Even if it is covered, we’ll still have a hefty deductible to pay under our policy. And paying the deductible to our home insurer is more than what it’s likely to cost to have the tree removed in the first place.

Be careful when buying a home

My husband and I had never even heard of a conservation easement until we discovered we had one on our property. And it’s not the sort of thing home buyers tend to be on the lookout for, since it’s somewhat rare.

But if you’re buying a home, it definitely pays to see if you’re looking at conservation land on your property. Reviewing your property survey should give you your answer.

And if you do have an easement on your property, be careful. If there are no trees sitting on that land, you may be just fine. Otherwise, you risk having a ticking time bomb in your backyard just waiting for the right combination of rain and wind to bring it crashing down and leaving you to file an insurance claim.

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