Lawn & Garden Landscaping

Why It’s a Really Bad Idea to Hire an Unlicensed Tree Trimmer

Dead trees and broken tree limbs pose a danger, but hiring someone who isn’t experienced could leave you with bigger problems.
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What Happens if You Hire an Unlicensed Tree Trimmer?

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Whether you just spotted a broken limb dangling precariously over the family room, or you’re worried that the dead branches on the old oak could become dangerous projectiles in high winds, you’re probably wondering how best to fix the problem. It isn’t unusual to spot leaflets advertising tree-trimming services, but is it a good idea to hire a trimmer you know nothing about? Ahead, find out what could happen if you hire an unlicensed (or uninsured) tree trimmer.

After a storm, fly-by-night “companies” are out in force.

These businesses move from community to community, seeking out tree-trimming jobs after powerful storms move through the area. Their timing is perfect, given that local tree-trimming companies are likely overwhelmed and unable to serve all the residents who have damaged trees. In addition to tucking flyers into mailboxes or tacking them on telephone poles, they might even contact homeowners directly. The guy on the doorstep might know his business, but hiring the wrong guy could open the door to bigger troubles.

You could get ripped off.

Not all transient tree trimmers have your best interests at heart. If the company demands payment up front, it should send up a red flag. Some types of projects require a partial payment before starting, but that’s only when the person doing the job needs to purchase materials. With tree trimming, no materials are necessary. Tell the company you’ll pay only when the job is completed to your satisfaction.

RELATED: How Much Does Tree Trimming Cost?

What Happens if You Hire an Unlicensed Tree Trimmer?

Homeowners insurance might not pay for property damages.

Reputable tree-trimming and tree-removal companies use specialized equipment and take every precaution to ensure a branch from a tree they’re trimming doesn’t fall on a fence or through the roof of your home. Still, accidents can happen—even with the best companies—and your homeowners insurance policy might not cover the damages. Before hiring a tree-trimmer, find out if the company is insured and bonded, and call your homeowners insurance agent to find out what they will cover.

You could be liable for injured workers.

It’s a nightmare scenario everyone wants to avoid: a worker getting injured on your property. A fall from a tree, an injury from a chainsaw, or a falling branch can result in hefty medical bills. If the tree-trimming company does not carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation, the homeowner could be sued for the injured worker’s medical costs and lost wages. This risk alone should be reason enough for hiring only a licensed and insured tree trimmer.

RELATED: Trees and Property Lines: 8 Things All Neighbors Should Know

What Happens if You Hire an Unlicensed Tree Trimmer?

A desirable tree could die.

Improper tree trimming can kill a beautiful tree. Desirable trees can take decades to reach their full appeal, so the person who trims the tree must understand how to care for it safely. Hiring someone who leaves a flier in your door might not be the best choice when you’re trying to keep a tree healthy. In this case, a professional arborist who is trained in trimming trees is the best option. To find a qualified arborist in your community, check out the International Society of Arboriculture’s website.

RELATED: 7 Signs Your Tree is Dying—and How to Save It

Ask these questions before hiring a tree trimmer.

Whether you’re looking for a tree trimmer to remove dead or diseased branches before winter begins or you’re in dire need of removing a large tree before it falls, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by asking tree trimmers these questions before you hire them:

  • Is the company licensed to do business in your community? Confirm their eligibility by calling your local building authority.
  • Does the company carry general liability and workers’ comp policies? Ask for a copy of their certificate of insurance (COI).

RELATED: Solved! When is the Best Time to Trim Trees for Proper Maintenance?

Resist the temptation to DIY the job.

Tree trimming can be pricey. It can cost as much as $1,500, depending on the height of the tree, so many an enthusiastic DIYer wonders if it’s worth it to climb up in the tree with a chainsaw. Please don’t do it. Teetering on a ladder or straddling a branch is a recipe for disaster. Professional tree-trimming companies have bucket lifts for their workers, and they know how to direct branches so that they fall safely.