Q: My neighbor says roots from my hedge are entering his sewer line and it's my responsibility to pay for the necessary repair. I'd like to ask my insurance company if my homeowner's...

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Q:

My neighbor says roots from my hedge are entering his sewer line and it’s my responsibility to pay for the necessary repair. I’d like to ask my insurance company if my homeowner’s policy would cover this, but I’m afraid to do so because I’ve heard that even asking a question can show up on my record and potentially affect my rates. Would you ask for me, please?


A:

Your first question should be directed to your neighbor: How does he know that your hedge is the source of his problem? Until he can prove you’re part of the problem, he can’t call on you to provide his solution.

But let’s say your hedge is the culprit.

“When it comes to tree roots, there’s no automatic coverage either for your house or somebody else’s house,” says Karl Newman, president of the Washington Insurance Council. Indeed, to have coverage in your case, Newman says your neighbor would have to show that “the loss was foreseeable and/or the policy holder had failed to exercise reasonable care prior to the damage.”

That’s a tough call where flora is concerned because tree roots aren’t good about taking orders. They can grow 40 or 50 feet underground in any direction. As they look for water, old clay pipes are a favorite target.

Newman says courts have ruled that homeowners have the right to cut roots that enter their property, “but their general thinking is everyone has to deal with tree roots, so you’re not going to find there’s liability.”

In fact, if this situation were to go to court, your insurance company would defend you. Your neighbor would have to show that you knew about the situation early on and did nothing and that the problem wasn’t caused by his failure to clean and maintain his sewer line.

Asking your insurance company about this situation could indeed generate what’s called a “loss history report.” That’s the generic name for computerized insurance claim and history files that two information-gathering firms maintain. The trade names for these reports are C.L.U.E. and A-PLUS. Insurance companies can access these files to see how much has been paid out in prior claims, when and for what.

A lot of loss-history data certainly can affect coverage and the cost of it.

“Most companies only submit a loss-history report if a claim is opened, and so inquiries usually wouldn’t count,” Newman says. “However, some companies treat all inquiries as reportable because from their view, you typically don’t call with a hypothetical question.”

If you want to know your insurance company’s policy, ask them about it rather than about the tree-root issue.


Q:

My mother, who’s in her 90s and in very good health, moved to the Eastside to be nearer my sister, who lives there part-time. My sister is gone for the winter, and Mom is lonely. She’s asked me to help her move back to Ballard, but I live out of state, and I don’t know how best to do this. Your thoughts?


A:

Eileen Murphy, associate director of Senior Information & Assistance, sees two issues here. One is what to do about your mother’s loneliness.

“There are things on the Eastside for people her age, especially somebody who is mobile and in fairly good shape,” Murphy says.

Among them are “really active” senior centers in Bellevue and Kirkland and a senior “Connections” program run by Overlake Hospital Medical Center. It offers a host of activities and services.

The other issue is the family dynamics, particularly if your sister is the one who convinced Mom to leave Ballard in the first place. Murphy suggests you and/or your mother talk with one of her agency’s caregiver advocates who can explore your mom’s needs and the best way to fill them without causing family strife.

The toll-free number is 888-4-ELDERS (888-435-3377). Senior Information & Assistance is part of the nonprofit Senior Services of Seattle/King County. More information, including a list of retirement homes and assisted-living centers, is available on-line at www.seniorservices.org.


Q:

The developer of our 100-unit condo has sold the remaining units to a successor who intends to lease them and buy all other units that become available and lease them. This successor now holds sufficient votes to collapse the association and has indicated he may do so. Our governing documents don’t address this possibility. Where would this leave the minority owners?


A:

Seattle attorney Jim Strichartz, of Strichartz Morgenstern, doesn’t have good news for you. State law allows for the termination of a condominium by agreement of 80 percent of the votes in the association.

So assuming the person who bought the unsold units has enough votes (and Strichartz says you shouldn’t take his word for it), here’s what could happen: This person can sign what’s called a termination agreement and record that agreement with the county. That could provide for the sale of the entire property, which means, Strichartz says, that you could be forced to sell.

“It’s a grim situation,” but one he says is uncommon. His advice: “Try to negotiate the best deal you can, but don’t expect to get what your unit is worth.”

The only other option is to go the courthouse route and “dig in for a long, hard and difficult lawsuit with no assurance of success.”

Home Forum answers readers’ real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is erhodes@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.