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A Tree Falls in Brooklyn – What Happens Next?

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This is a frustrating story and a cautionary tale of what does and does not happen after a tree falls in this city. We received quite a few reports of trees breaking and resulting in property damage across Brooklyn throughout October, so we decided to follow up with one of the property owners to see if they would share with us their experience of having the tree pruned or removed.

First off, there are two kinds of trees in the city – City trees, and those on private properties. This story will be about the public trees, and we will follow up with another on how to navigate private tree removal, which is different.

It’s the city’s responsibility to remove dangerous street trees and those in other public places, like parks. Should you come across a dangerous tree, you should immediately report it to 311. Once you call 311, you should receive a number that allows you to check back in on the status of the report. Or so the city would like us to believe.

In reality, getting the city to deal with a damaged and dangerous tree will take persistence and dedication, and often involve calls to local government representatives to get the city to move. Here’s an illustration of what it takes.

Back on October 3rd, we reported a large maple tree was damaged in the wind in Ditmas Park, but we had similar reports from Kensington and Midwood as well. Some branches broke and hit the ground, others remained caught in the canopy and dangled precariously above a sidewalk.

Homeowner David Ho reported the damage to 311, which deemed the situation dangerous and put the call through to 911. The FDNY and NYPD came shortly after and put yellow tape around the tree completely blocking the sidewalk and indicating one should not pass under, and told the homeowners the tree guys will come and deal.

FDNY and NYPD responded to the call very quickly.

This tree is on a school block, with scores of children passing daily to and from their way to the local PS139 located at the end of the block, but Halloween, during which the average homeowner on this block hands out about 3,000 pieces of candy, is still 3 weeks away. Plenty of reason to think the tree should be addressed quickly and that there is sufficient time to remediate the situation.

A week goes by, and nothing happens. The tree is still there, except the homeowners have tried to prop the yellow tape up as it keeps falling down.  Mr. Ho calls 311 to follow up on the tree and is informed that no report was filed. They instruct him to call the Fire Department since they are the ones that responded. After a few calls with FDNY that result in nothing, homeowners call 311 again to file a tree complaint and get the response that it will take 8 days for a reply.

This now puts the tree situation in the “imminently dangerous” in homeowners minds, as the 8 days will be up right around Halloween. They call 311 a few more times for status updates on their tree case, just to be read out the status that they could check online, Mr. Ho says, frustrated with the experience. After 8 days are up, the status of their tree case simply changes to “past due”, with no response from the city to the homeowner.

Neighbors on the block try to file more complaints about the tree, however, are told that with one such complaint on the file, allegedly there cannot be another one filed.  At this point, the Ho family is determined. Not only do they have 2 elementary school-aged kids that have to pass by the tree daily, they are really worried about Halloween.

The week before Halloween, they call Community Board 14 (CB14) which covers their area in hopes they can facilitate a resolution. A few days later CB14 calls them back to see if the tree was taken care of – it has not. On Friday before Halloween CB 14 calls again, the tree should be fixed next day. Saturday comes around … nothing happens. The tree still standing.

Finally, on Monday, the day before Halloween, three trucks showed up around 5:30 pm, Mr. Ho says, and cut down the whole tree within an hour. He never heard from the city – no call or notification – about the process (other than CB14).

Next day is Halloween.

That same afternoon the team took care of this branch that damaged a car on a nearby block:

Fallen branches from the tree on the right damaged the car in the picture.

You can request trees fallen in public spaces to be removed here. If the tree has damaged your property – whether it is a building or vehicle – you  should also do the following:

  • take pictures to document the damage.
  • call your insurance company for advice on how to proceed with tree removal.  They may need to send out an adjuster and may have authorized companies capable of removing the tree without inflicting more damage.

When you call 311 (or go online to report such damage) you can report the following issues, according to the website:
  • Report a damaged or dead tree
  • Request a new street tree
  • Notify Parks of illegal tree damage
  • Submit a report of potentially hazardous trees or branches*
  • Let us know about an undesirable root, sewer, or sidewalk condition
City workers pruning a tree in Brooklyn.

So basically just about anything pertaining to the city trees, except “wood debris removal requests”  – branches that fall, or that you prune from any tree on your property.  Asian longhorned beetle has been spotted in Brooklyn, and in order to contain infestation, “quarantine has been established regulating the movement of any tree wood” in the borough and you must schedule an appointment to discard any and all tree prunings, firewood, and other organic woody debris (like roots) from your property – anything ½ inch or over in diameter. To schedule a wood debris pickup, call 311 or fill out the Wood Debris Removal form.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Is the city not held liable when a falling “city tree” causes damage to a vehicle or home?

    In the article you mention to contact your own insurance company to file a claim…. but why is that? Would it not be the cities insurance that must cover any damage to your property? Reporting a claim to your own insurance company will increase the premium on your homeowners policy over the coming years. This is why you should never report something to your own insurance company unless you are at fault.

  2. Hi Argyle Road, Parks Forestry by policy runs a logging operation and are NOT in the business of preserving street trees. As you are civic minded, you may wish to challenge such treatment of our public urban trees and give a voice to these trees where it doesn’t exist. Who speaks for the trees in your neighborhood?

  3. The reason the trees are falling is because they are so dry on the inside and likely unhealthy due to years of AEROSOL SPRAYING with aluminum, barium and strontium and the root systems shut down due to toxicity. Yeah, CHEMTRAILS. Do you get it? Large tree branches never used to fall down so frequently. I live in Ditmas. I have observed it get worse and worse. Go to GEOENGINEERINGWATCH.ORG to find out more on how to stop this horror. Say it: Don’t spray it!

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