New Hyde Park resident Andrew Faglio returned to the village hall Tuesday night to speak with the village board after following up with his insurance company about the liability of tall trees in the neighborhood in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Faglio had previously spoken in front of the village board about his experience where a tree had toppled power lines near his home and nearly caused a fire at one of his neighbors’ homes.
“They said they only thing that they could think of was that if you inspected the trees and you saw, like this tree, 30-ft. tall and two-thirds rotted, you know it’s not going to take much to bring that down, if you wanted to inform the homeowner of this situation and come up with some village ordinance or something that said ‘you’ve got 90 days to trim your tree’... or else we’re going to inform your insurance company,” Faglio said, adding that the insurance company would like to know if homeowners are being negligent.
Mayor Daniel Petruccio speculated that it might work similar to a “notice of defect” issued by the village for a sidewalk repair.
“It’s similar in nature,” he said. “When someone has a broken sidewalk, you send them a notice, there’s no fine attached to it, but that they’ve been put on notice that there’s a defect on their property.”
“I think the insurance companies would be delighted to have the village assume the responsibility,” deputy mayor Robert Lofaro said with a bit of sarcasm. “By us inspecting the tree, we deem it to be good and the tree does fall, we are then liable.”
Faglio said that he could see the tree was compromised from a distance.
“I have a feeling that most of the trees we’d be looking to put notices of defect on might not be quite as visible from outside of the property line,” Petruccio said, noting that the board would be meeting with village attorney John Spellman next week and may provide a recommendation. “It may be something that we legally can’t get involved in and then the last piece of the puzzle is clearly how do we incorporate the manpower to take care of this. Unless we get a notification from someone, we’re going to have to go street-to-street, house-to-house to do this.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the village had many healthy trees uprooted as well, with a large specimen at Washington and Park Avenue taking out two garages in the rear of a house.
“One would argue that it was too big and it was destined to do major damage,” Lofaro said. “Even healthy trees, one would argue if it’s over a certain height, it should be remedied as well. Usually what happens is we make the resident responsible themselves and they would have to get an arborist or somebody to certify that the tree is good condition. We would just be the recipient of documentation evidencing that so that’s how in many regards we avoid being the ones of responsibility. Basically the homeowner is responsible to have their insurance carry or their arborist certify that the tree is healthy and does not pose a danger.”
The village in in the process of hiring an arborist, but only for trees that are planted and growing on village property between the sidewalk and curb.
“I can’t just walk into somebody’s yard,” superintendent of public works Tom Gannon said.
“Even if we want to inspect the tree, we can’t if they don’t allow us on their property,” Lofaro said of the homeowners. They just don’t want a big tree in front of their house anymore; they moved into the neighborhood three years ago and the tree was there for 75 years but now they want it gone because they don’t like the tree and their children sleep in the front room and because of that they want the tree removed. That’s another matter that we’re trying to deal with as far as we don’t want to cut down all the trees in the village.”