What should N.J. homeowners do about downed trees?

N.J. homeowners are urged to contact their insurance companies about downed trees.

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A downed tree that fell on a house

File photo: Joe Higgins, right, helps Debbie Epifano walk past a large tree that crashed through their home during a storm Tuesday night in Gibbstown, N.J., Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

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The storm that slammed the region earlier this week unleashed winds of up to 75 miles per hour and felled thousands of trees across New Jersey.

So, who covers the clean up costs? Is it home insurance companies or do homeowners have to dip into their pockets?

Christine O’Brien is the president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey. She said most  homeowner insurance policies cover tree-inflicted damage to structures such as homes, garages, sheds and decks. If a tree falls on a car, auto insurance policies will often pay for the damage. But if the tree goes down without any damage to a structure or a car, insurance companies don’t pay for clean up.

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“Your homeowners policy will not cover other damage, or just the fallen tree, the cleanup and removal of the tree, unless you have a rider or additional coverage that you paid for from the onset of when you purchased your homeowners policy,” O’Brien said.

Pete Righetti, the manager of Rich Tree Service, a company that works all over the Garden State, said since the Tuesday storm there has been a definite uptick in calls.

“Trees on houses, emergency calls, trees across the road, definitely a lot busier,” he said.

How much does it cost?

He said some jobs may be in the $800 range while others may cost $1,600 or more, depending on multiple factors, including the location of the fallen tree and whether or not it’s an emergency.

“You’ve got to take into consideration the size of the tree, the thickness, but there’s so many variables,” he said.

Righetti said each tree removal job is different but right after a storm fast action is frequently part of the mix.

“We work to get the emergency out of the way, get it off the house, get it off the car, get it out of the way so cars can pass and there’s nothing dangerous around,” he said.

He said when a call comes in to remove a fallen tree they need to be ready for anything.

“Every job we go to we always carry enough equipment, a log hauler to carry the tree away from the house, usually the biggest variables are power lines or existing structures close to the tree. Access is usually a problem as well,” he said.

Robert Griscom, the owner of New Jersey Treeman, which serves Hunterdon County and nearby areas, said people should always make sure the tree company they hire is properly licensed, certified and registered with the state.

O’Brien said many people might be surprised by the coverage they either have or do not have on different policies, so it’s important to discuss options with an insurance representative.

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“You are talking about protecting your most important assets, your home, your property, your auto,” she said. “These are contracts and so they are very specific. Definitely speak to your agent or your insurance company directly.”

As best practices, she recommended all residents connect with a company that trims trees, reviews the types of trees on the property and identifies the ones that may pose a potential danger from wind, high water levels and pests.

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