Do we have any recourse with tree/sewer problem?

We had to have a sewer pipe replaced last summer to the tune of $4000 because tree roots had filled the entire thing. The tree was on the boulevard (strip of grass separating the city sidewalk from the road) and including replacing the section of sidewalk that was ripped up and a section of the city street that had to be replaced.

Is the tree considered ours, even if it is on the boulevard? We mow it (the boulevard) but I’m not sure of the actual ownership of that strip of land. If we wanted to remove that tree to prevent future problems, could we?

Homeowner’s insurance will not pay for it - they will only pay for clean-up of any damage done due to the back up of water/sewage in our basement, which was minor and since we have tile down there it was easily cleaned up.

I’ve had people tell me that the city owns the tree and they should pay for it. My SO has been to city hall and they say it is our problem. I don’t know if it is worth hiring a lawyer for or not.

If you really really don’t want to pay for it, then it’s time to go down to City Hall and get out the charts and maps and certified ordinances, and figure it out for yourself if you don’t like their answer.

But how much does taking down a tree and having a stump ground cost? Is it a humongous tree? I had 10 trees cut down and 12 stumps ground and it only cost me $750. My dad had 1 stump ground and it was $25 (others had quoted me $30 per stump, fwiw).

If you do decide to get it taken care of yourself, make sure you have “It’s your problem” in writing from City Hall, so they can’t come back and fine you for cutting their tree down.

Have you ever replaced sewer pipe? You don’t even know what pain is.

We have already paid for it (it isn’t fair to the company who did the work to have to wait for what is owed them). If we wanted to take action, we’d definitely need to get a lawyer and sue to recover the money. The tree coming down can wait - I’d like to know if we could sue to get the $4000 for the pipe replacement from the city, or if it would even be worth it for $4000. I know how fast lawyer’s fees can eat up any money recovered, and if we’d even have a case.

I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about the legality/ownership of removing the tree so it doesn’t happen again. I did not realize you were seeking recourse for the work you’ve already had done.

My bad. Carry on :slight_smile:

I probably wasn’t clear - I typed that out before coffee and that’s never good. Thanks for your input!

Your location may almost certainly vary, but anecdotally I can tell you that in my neighborhood street trees and the damage they cause was completely the responsibility of the homeowner.
One summer the city came along and told all the neighbors on the other side of our street that:

  • Their street trees’ roots had damaged the sidewalks (upheavals and cracking)
  • The trees had to go, at the homeowner’s expense
  • The sidewalks had to be fixed, again at the homeowner’s expense

There were a lot of unhappy neighbors on that side of the street that year. For some odd reason, they never brought the hammer down on our side of the street.

I am sorry for your difficulties (having had two sewage back ups in the past 6 months myself).

This happened to my father some years ago. The city was reluctant to admit responsibility, but once the maps and plans were examined, the tree causing the problem was found to be located on the city’s land. Therefore, it was the city’s tree and so the city had to take responsibility. As I recall, once this occurred, the city called in its own contractor to dig up my Dad’s lawn and repair the problem. They did a good job, and even replaced the sod.

Here’s where you and my Dad’s experience differ, if I understand your OP correctly: you called in your own contractor first, and paid the bill. The city didn’t have a chance to correct the problem before you took action, which could be (but may not be) why the city says its your problem.

You might consult with a lawyer, but you might also check out your state’s Small Claims courts. I don’t know, but I would imagine a $4000 claim would fit within the Small Claims limits. If you presented good evidence (maps and surveys showing property lines, the contractor’s bill) showing that the problem was caused by a city-owned tree on city-owned land, then you might have some success. But a preliminary consultation with a lawyer would probably be a good idea, even just to get acquainted with local laws and custom in these matters.

We had to take immediate action. With no sewer (it was completely clogged) we could not use any water - even flushing the toilet - was out of the question. Fixing the pipe was a necessity. We had plumbers out prior to this and the problem wasn’t correctly diagnosed right away. We wasted an additional $700 on plumbers until a camera was sent down there. I wish we could have waited (we didn’t have a spare 4K sitting around).

So from experience in this thread we have city - 1, homeowner - 1.

Please don’t shoot the messenger… but it could be like this:

The street is likely on what’s called “right-of-way.” That is, the City has the right to use it for public transportation and utilities, and so you can’t build on it at all, and the City has the right to pave it with asphalt and concrete sidewalk, and every citizen has the right to walk on it and drive on it and everything else. But the City doesn’t own it as such. So the City can say that it’s your tree and mean it.

It gets a little worse, even. If you look at the map that got filed when your tract was subdivided (there will probably be one, but not absolutely always), the tract was possibly created with these streets already outlined. Even though the City doesn’t technically own the streets, there’s nothing on the map to show who does. Doesn’t make much practical difference, except in limited circumstances, because it would mostly only make much difference if the City abandoned (“vacated”) the right-of-way, which it probably will never do. But the actual ownership of the “parkway” will be vague, except that it’s right in front of your house.

It gets a little worse. Because the tree is private property, the City will probably not be interested in trimming it - except… the City will probably want to trim it occasionally to keep it from being a traffic hazard, but such trimming will happen when the City’s budget allows it to happen.

It gets a little worse. The City can tell citizens what they can’t build on their lots, often called zoning codes, and can also put some landscaping requirements in those codes, such as requiring that each lot has a “street tree.” So even though the City doesn’t own it, the City has some administrative power to say what happens to it.

It gets a little better, but not much. The City probably doesn’t care so much what happens to any individual tree, so long as it gets replaced - well, presuming that this isn’t a tree with any interest group surrounding it. If you call the local Public Works Department, they may have a brochure telling you what to do if you need to remove a street tree (um, probably at your cost). Um, the City probably doesn’t want wannabe lumberjacks to drop trees into the street, so it may have requirements for contractors doing the work.

The City may be politically interested in appearing green, and may be interested in urban reforestation or some such. That is, they may have some program to make it easier for you to replace the tree you cut down.

Regardless, you could try calling the local councilman or alderman’s office if you think that the Public Works Department is being a little harsh. Might not do much good, but probably couldn’t hurt.

Or maybe not much of this applies where you live. Er.