Trees and home insurance

Trees and substantial vegetation close to your property can cause subsidence, heave and other damage. Will your home insurance cover it?

Amy Smith

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Do trees cause problems with home insurance?

If you have trees close to your home, your home insurance premium probably won’t be any more expensive, or the process of taking out a policy any more complicated.

Some - but not all - insurers will ask how far away trees are from your home.

Key points

  • If you have trees on your property, check your policy to see if their presence affects your home insurance, just in case you ever make a claim
  • Trees close to a property could cause subsidence, removing them could cause heave
  • Insurance will cover subsidence and/or heave, but a claim will make future policies more expensive and harder to find
  • Policies usually provide cover for damage caused by falling trees and branches

Other policies will have a list of 'assumptions' that include damage caused by trees - you'll be asked to agree to these assumptions when you buy the policy to make sure you meet your provider's criteria.

Did you know..?

A general rule is to plant a tree at least as far away from your property as the tree's expected full height

What damage could a tree cause?

Trees can cause four issues for your property:

  • Falling, broken branches can damage your home
  • Roots growing into and through foundations and walls
  • Moisture is absorbed from the soil, causing subsidence
  • Removing the tree allows water to pool in the soil, causing heave

Would your home insurance cover all these scenarios?

Broken branches and fallen trees

Naturally falling branches or trees that damage your roof, windows or other aspects of your property are usually covered as standard by your home insurance.

That includes if damage happens when you’re removing the fallen branch.

Sometimes the insurer will pay reasonable costs to remove the branch or tree, but not the stump or roots which remain underground.

You’re not covered if you’re pruning the tree or felling it.

Tree roots

It’s possible that tree roots and shrubs could grow through, under, or against your property's foundations or external walls.

For roots to place physical pressure on a house's foundations they must be very close to the structure, so it’s something your insurer will want to know when you take out your policy.

If your home is damaged by roots or you experience subsidence or heave, your home buildings policy should provide you with cover if you need to make a claim.

You’re not usually covered if a tree root blocks or causes a drain to collapse.

Subsidence

If you have trees growing near your home, the damage they cause might not be because of the tree itself.

It's more likely to be caused by clay soil shrinking as it dries, making the foundations sink – this is called subsidence.

Because tree roots absorb water from the soil, it causes the earth to dry faster and that leads to subsidence.

Ash, willow, elm, poplar and oak trees all suck up a great deal of water.

Subsidence claims can often be costly, so a loss adjuster will usually be sent to assess the claim and the cause of the problems.

If the insurer accepts a claim for subsidence caused by your tree, it will cover damage it has caused to your property.

Most home insurance policies offer subsidence cover as standard.

Heave

Removing a mature tree from dry ground can cause more damage than leaving it alone, as it could lead to ‘heave’.

This is where the water balance in the soil has become reliant on moisture being removed by the tree's roots - if the tree is removed the soil will swell with additional moisture.

If you’re worried about a tree causing subsidence or if you’re considering removing mature trees seek professional advice from a qualified arborist or surveyor.

This particularly applies if the tree's existence pre-dates your property.

There shouldn't be any reason to cut down a healthy tree whose roots are causing no problems.

Removing a tree

If your insurer advises you to remove a healthy, unobtrusive tree as a precaution and you refuse, you may be held responsible for the cost of any future damage.

It's always a good idea to talk to your insurer and work out a solution if you disagree with a tree’s risk.

Did you know..?

An insurer shouldn't ask you to remove a tree unless they believe it will cause damage

Getting insurance after heave, subsidence and tree root damage

Your insurer should cover your initial tree root damage or subsidence claim, but you may have to shop around to find a fairly-priced policy after you’ve made the claim.

Trees on neighbouring property

If you're concerned about a neighbouring tree or shrub, have a friendly chat with your neighbour first.

If you still have concerns, you might need to establish your legal position or come to a compromise to share the costs of any removal.

Your insurer won’t cover legal costs for disputes related to roots or branches reaching over your neighbour’s boundary.

When planting trees, take neighbouring buildings into account - if roots from your trees affect neighbouring homes you may be liable for the damage.

Most home insurance policies cover third-party damage as standard, but you'll need to pay the excess and your premium will increase when you come to renew your policy.

Legal rights when removing trees

Many mature trees are protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), and you'll need to apply to the council for consent to cut it down.

Your conveyancer should discover whether trees are protected by a TPO when you buy a property.

Before removing a mature tree, you should confirm that you have the legal right to do so.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) offers advice when buying a house on the placement of trees and whether they could become an issue. It also offers guidance on suitable planting distances.

If you're considering buying a house with trees on or near your land, a structural survey of the property should tell you whether the house is under any threat from nearby trees.

What to do if a tree falls on your home

If a tree has fallen on your house, evacuate immediately and move a safe distance away as the structure might be unstable.

Call the emergency services and ask for the fire brigade. Get in touch with your insurer so they can start planning for alternative accommodation (if necessary) and begin the claims process.

Take photos of the damage caused for evidence, if you can safely do so. Your insurer's priority will likely be weatherproofing your property before more permanent repairs are carried out.

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