Who pays when a city-owned tree damages your house?

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Streets in many of Buffalo’s older neighborhoods are lined with towering majestic sycamore trees—a rugged hybrid sycamore known as London Plane–and they sit in the area between the sidewalk and the street, known as the public right-of-way.

Public rights-of-way along streets are not limited to Buffalo, those narrow strips of real estate carry that designation along any public street or highway.

While tall arching trees can add charm to a neighborhood street, one giant sycamore is causing a giant headache for Creola Beckham. The roots seem to be causing serious damage to the foundation of her home, “The tree is not on my property, it is on the city’s property.”

The house on Dodge Street actually belongs to her late mother, who died in April, and the tree roots have damaged an adjacent sidewalk, which has been repaired, and the floor of the basement.

Something under the basement floor is causing a wall-to-wall heave in the basement floor, and there is a straight line along the hump, across a side yard, and under the sidewalk to the tree.

Beckham said, “In the basement, the roots go under the concrete, up the sidewalk into my basement, and the basement is getting all busted up.”

But the Buffalo grandmother is powerless to protect the house because the property is still in her mom’s name, and she wants the city to take some responsibility for the tree damage, and remove the root.

While the tree belongs to the city, Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Andrew Rabb said property damage is still on the homeowner to hire a contractor to make the repairs, then they can file a claim to recover the costs.

According to Rabb, the Bureau of Forestry does not come out and fix those problems, “But we will work with the contractor. If the homeowner then wishes to file a claim for reimbursement for those costs, there is a process in place to file a claim with the city.”

Rabb also pointed out, tree damage to a sidewalk is different. If the roots are causing the sidewalk to heave, the city will fix the sidewalk because the sidewalk is in the public right-of-way.

In cases where a tree might be endangering public safety, Rabb said a Forestry crew might cut it down and remove it completely. To report a problem city-owned tree, Buffalo residents can call 311.

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