If a tree falls, and it’s in a landscape maintenance district, who’s liable? 

Photo courtesy of Vicky Nelson

Vicky Nelson said the only thing that saved her life when a 50-foot tree fell onto her home was a railing on a deck outside her master bedroom.  

Following heavy storms in the middle of March, the tree that had been on a slope in her backyard for as long as she’d lived there, 20 years, came crashing down. Nelson said she’s thankful that no one was hurt.  

“Thankfully, it didn’t land on me. I mean really seriously, the major thing about this is that no one was hurt. None of our dogs were hurt, my husband wasn’t hurt, the guys that live with us weren’t hurt,” said Nelson. “The rest is just, you know, I get it — it’s our biggest investment, but it’s just stuff that can be fixed.” 

Video courtesy of Vicky Nelson

Nelson said when it happened, around midnight on March 12, they initially thought it was an earthquake. But upon inspection, they realized exactly what it was.  

“I mean, you opened the sliding glass door and it was like you were living in a forest,” said Nelson.  

The tree had crashed through the roof of their home on Cypress Place in Saugus and cracked the ceiling of their master bedroom. It appeared as if the outside wall would have collapsed had their deck railing not broke some of the fall.  

Nelson said the city was quick to clean up the tree. On the night it fell, they had completely removed it by sunrise.  

In all, Nelson estimates up to $50,000 worth of damage to have been caused by the tree — but finding out who is liable to foot the bill has been a bit tricky.  

Photo courtesy of Vicky Nelson.

The tree stood on what is known as a landscape maintenance district — a parcel of land that a homeowner pays taxes on, but is not able to alter or modify in any way.  

“We are not allowed to plant anything. We’re not allowed to go up on the slope. We’re not allowed to, even though we pay taxes on this piece of property, we can’t use it,” said Nelson. “It’s their water, it’s their sprinklers, their maintenance, their landscapers come through every couple of weeks and they are responsible for everything that is on the hill, the trees, the bushes, everything.” 

Nelson said maintenance crews thinned the trees on the slope a few years ago, but haven’t been back since. She’s worried the other trees on the same parcel, similar in size, could knock over following another heavy storm.  

In the meantime, Nelson has filed a claim through her insurance company and hopes temporary housing, while repairs take place, will be provided.  

Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, said the city would not comment on Nelson’s situation specifically but also could not provide insight into liability, in general, as to when a tree that lies in an LMD causes property damage.  

“The city’s Urban Forestry Office oversees the maintenance and pruning of more than 115,000 trees under its care,” wrote Lujan in response to The Signal’s liability inquiry. “Each year the city proactively prunes more than 16,000 trees and responds to an [additional] 2,500 annual requests from residents for tree evaluation. If you are concerned about a tree near your property, please make a request via the city’s Resident Service Center at santa-clarita.com/RSC.” 

Nelson said an arborist with the Urban Forestry Office did come and inspect the other trees on the LMD, but that he could not comment on whether they required pruning and made no promises as to whether they could receive maintenance in the near future.  

But Nelson is thankful the situation isn’t worse and hopes other homeowners won’t be just as, or more, affected as she was.  

“We’re really, super thankful that it wasn’t a worse situation. We feel for anybody who has actually had a tree fall through their house, that I can’t even imagine,” said Nelson. “I just hope that everybody stays safe during this unprecedented rainfall we’re having.” 

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