Jesse’s Story of the Day

Jesse investigates a Seattle ordinance that could cost homeowners thousands



There are more than a half million trees in the city that are on city property but are the responsibility of homeowners.  Do you live near one?

The hood of Steven Brinkerhoff’s truck was slammed by a fallen tree that wasn’t even on his property.

“It broke the whole front and the force of just the one branch poked right through the windshield there,” described Brinkerhoff.  “That had to be some weight coming down.”

Now Brinkerhoff is concerned the big, dead tree may fall and hit a telephone pole or the daycare across the street.

So why doesn’t the owner of the tree take responsibility?  It turns out, the tree is on property owned by the city but it’s not their problem.

Nolan Rundquist, city of Seattle’s arborist, acknowledges the troubled tree is on a city-owned right away. Despite that, it’s Brinkerhoff’s responsibility to take it down.

“The municipal code says that abutting property owner is responsible for those trees,” explained Rundquist.

According to Rundquist, there are approximately 200,000 trees in the city that are the responsibility of the abutting property owner.  That includes maintenance and removal when necessary.  The city is only responsible for the trees it has planted.

“I don’t think a tree should be my responsibility.  Just like the trees on my property are my responsibility, the trees on their property should be their responsibility,” exclaimed Brinkerhoff.

This isn’t the kind of situation you want to ignore.  According to lawyer Christopher Thayer, the abutting property owner is also on the hook for damages if something goes wrong.

“If there’s a big ol’ dead tree there and it falls on your neighbor’s garage, you may be facing some challenges financially,” said Thayer.

Now I feel terrible. Brinkerhoff asked me for help but instead he ended up with bad news that’s going to cost him.

“They’re making me have a $4,000 bill is what it’s going to come down to,” said Brinkerhoff.

So I got in touch with the folks at Ballard Tree and they agreed to take care of that dead weight, free of charge.

Click here for a map that shows building outlines, parcels, critical areas and zoning.

Click here for more information about the city’s tree regulations.

Click here for a map of the trees for which the city is responsible.

*According to the city, 99% of street trees that are the city’s responsibility appear on this map so if it is in the right of way and not mapped, it is the adjacent property owner’s responsibility to maintain.


Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter