The early 20th century poet Joyce Kilmer had never conceived of an MHC when he penned the poem, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” In the great Northwest, large trees, their branches, and detritus have been known to literally impact homes and other buildings. Forests grow in ideal ground for shallow rooted pine and fir trees. Older healthy trees in your community are easily uprooted with rainwater-saturated soil and heavy winds. These acts of God can affect the property of our tenants.
This is unfortunate but not the fault of either the MHC owner or the tenant; we are not responsible for snow, rain, wind, freezing, and the like. The operative word in the above paragraph is healthy. If a tree is diseased in any way and the wind blew it over, you may be responsible for the resulting damage. As the MHC owner, it is your responsibility to make sure that potential injury and damage to third parties and their property is prevented, not avoided or ignored.
Prevention translates to your having a third-party professional periodically assess trees in your community. Regular tree inspection, care, trimming, and removal (when necessary) are all part of loss prevention. This is similar to the conscientious repair and maintenance of other physical parts of the community. Insurance may cover your negligence if it is determined that a sick tree, not an act of God, caused the loss. However, insurance cannot restore the hard-won great Landlord-Tenant relationships enjoyed prior to any property loss; the mind set of tenants so damaged can lead to future adversarial encounters which can be a contagion in your community.
The next time there is a storm and a healthy tree damages a tenant’s property, have your manager advise them to contact the tenant’s insurance agency. If the tenant has a mobile homeowner’s policy, the damage should be insured under their policy not yours. If the tenant’s insurers believe that the MHC owner is liable, their insurance company will revert to your company, perhaps getting you out of the psychological position as an adversary.
Typically, your insurance will have carve-out exclusions regarding tree damage debris removal from weather related event.
Everyone banters about taking responsibility for actions. As a matter of common sense (and law) this does not mean that tenants can transfer responsibility of insuring their property to you just because their homes are on your land. Your liability insurance is to protect the public from you and employees’ negligent acts, not as a stopgap for tenants’ decisions to self-assume their potential risk.
While MHC owners sympathize with those who have suffered loss and did not carry insurance for their possessions, it was their financial decision. Therefore, the consequences are their responsibility.
Joel Erlitz has owned and operated MHCs in the four Northwestern States over the last 42+ years. He was appointed twice by Governors to represent MHCs of Washington on State funded task forces. He has been active in State politics as they related to MHCs and has provided expert testimony on issues relating to management, ownership, appraisal and lending practices for land-lease communities. If you have any questions about this article, please contact Mr. Erlitz Jserlitz@comcast.net.