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Row over toppled tree rumbles on

A 50ft (15.2m) tree which toppled on houses in a storm has still not been moved more than three weeks on because of a dispute over who is responsible for it.

The leylandii tree has been lying against at least two three-storey houses since falling in winds of more than 60mph in the early hours of Christmas Eve.

Mother-of-one Heidi Brett, who lives in the end-terrace house in Harptree Drive in Walderslade, Kent, said there is a stalemate between her landlord and the tree owner over who should move it.

Support worker Ms Brett, 35, said her landlord has been quoted £2,500 to have it shifted, but she believes the cost should be met by the tree's owners.

She said: "My landlord has had a quote of £2,500 to remove the tree. His insurance company has said he will foot the bill and they will try to reclaim it from the tree owner's insurance firm.

"But that means my landlord has to first pay up out of his own pocket, and that's where the problem lies. I think the tree owner should be responsible for removing it.

"It's been lying against my house for over three weeks now and no-one wants to claim responsibility. Somebody needs to do something."

Ms Brett, who pays £725 a month in rent for the three-bedroom house, said she supports her landlord who she feels should not have to pay to remedy a problem caused by someone else's tree.

"I think if you plant a tree in your garden you should look after it, make sure it's safe and if it blows down you should deal with the consequences," she said.

"It shouldn't be down to the innocent party to clear up someone else's mess."

Ms Brett, who has lived at the property for just under three years, said that since the tree toppled, a large crack has appeared above a bedroom window and damp was getting in.

However, tree owner Sheila Stenning said she acted as quickly as possible when the tree blew down from her back garden. She said she was keen to resolve the dispute.

She said: "I rang my insurance company as soon as they opened at 8 o'clock on Christmas Eve after it fell overnight.

"I said, 'What do I do?'

"What happens under these circumstances is that the insurance company for the owner of the house which the tree has fallen on pays for the tree to be removed, then they liaise with our insurance company to recover the costs.

"It's the same as in a car accident. I gave Heidi and her neighbour my insurance company details on Christmas Eve and I saw Heidi's landlord that day.

"My understanding is that the work would be done and the bill would be sent to the insurance company as most people don't have that sort of money."

Ms Stenning said her insurance company had telephoned her this morning and was making efforts to speak to the landlord's insurance firm to resolve the situation.

"I don't want this dragging on and I appreciate Heidi's point of view," she said.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that homeowners whose property has been damaged by a tree brought down in a storm need to claim from their own insurance, regardless of who the tree belongs to.

Spokesman Stephen Sobey said: "The ABI cannot comment on specific cases, but as a general rule of thumb, when your home is damaged as a result of a tree felled in a storm, regardless of the tree's ownership, you need to claim from your own building insurance.

"To be able to claim for damage caused to your house, you would have to show that your neighbour was legally liable, for example that they had been negligent in maintaining the tree properly.

"If you can demonstrate your neighbour's liability, then your damages claim may be covered by their household policy, under the legal liability section."

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