Disasters from Trees and Power Lines: Who is Responsible?

When monsoon season hits, we all feel a little like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz during the tornado. After the inevitable rain, we may step out our front door, only to be confronted with an electrical disaster. Because, if a tree branch cracks or breaks, it may end up sitting on a power line or even pulling the line completely down.

This situation is incredibly dangerous and can be a little bit tricky for several reasons.

Let’s take the case of Maggie S., a single mother of a special needs child, Wendy.  The morning after one of our mighty monsoons, Maggie woke to Wendy asking if she could go out and swing on the swingset in the backyard.
  
When Maggie walked out onto the backyard, she immediately saw something amiss. 
“A tree branch from my neighbor’s tree had cracked and fallen on the power line from the pole to my house. Unfortunately, the swing set is directly below the powerline.”


Maggie quickly hustled the disappointed Wendy back into the house. Then she got on the telephone and called her neighbor.  The tree, the neighbor explained, actually belonged to the city. So, Maggie called the city. The city revealed they are only responsible for the portion of their tree which is actually on city property.

So Maggie called the electric company.

The electric company explained that they are only responsible for the electrical lines which go from pole to pole. Once the service line leaves their pole to go to Wendy’s home, it becomes the responsibility of the homeowner--in this case, Maggie. When Maggie makes arrangements for a tree company to come out and remove the branch from the electrical wire, the power company is willing to shut the power off until the repair is complete.

In the meantime, the branch is rubbing against the power line every time the wind blows. This friction could damage the insulation or eventually take down the whole power line. Downed power lines are deadly.

Power companies recommend never planting a tree near an electrical line and cutting trees back 15 feet from existing power lines. In this situation, Maggie is going to have to hire a tree trimming company to cut down the branch and probably cut back the tree, as well, even though she didn’t plant the tree and doesn’t own it.

The point of this story is that it’s important to understand our responsibilities when it comes to our power lines. If we see a tree, even if it isn’t our own, encroaching on our power lines, it’s important to have those branches cut before they can create a problem.  In fact, in some cases, the homeowner may be able to convince the city that their foliage is creating a hazard before there is a problem if they can do the trimming on their side of the fence. However, once the damage is done, it becomes the responsibility of the homeowner to rectify the problem if the event involves his power pole.