Consumer Protection

For you, your property, and your protection.

Customer satisfaction with the tree service industry is low. Barriers to entry in the industry are minimal; anyone with a chain saw and a truck can offer services. This ease-of-entry can result in companies doing work for which they are unqualified and/or insufficiently insured. After weather events, when reputable tree care companies are overwhelmed with emergency calls, “door-knockers” offer services house-to-house, often performing substandard work for cash, and often without general liability or worker compensation insurance. This can result in worker injuries or fatalities, property damage, poor-quality tree care, and diminished public perceptions of tree care providers in general.

The United States Better Business Bureau (US BBB) compiles and releases Complaint and Inquiry Statistics. The 2018 summary is available online. The US BBB received 1,064,337 inquiries about tree service companies in 2018. The inquiries are made by people asking for services in their area or recommendations. The number of inquiries is a high, placing tree care services in the 25th place out of 5,962 industries listed (the top 0.5 percentile). Although no reason for this high number of inquiries is presented in the report, it does suggest that many consumers do not know who they should contact for reliable tree services.

The US BBB received 1,506 complaints concerning tree services, earning the industry a rank of 101 among 5,962 listed industries and placing it in the top 1.7% in terms of total complaints. This is not an enviable position. On average, the US BBB was able to settle 78% of the received complaints for all businesses. Just 45% of the complaints were settled in Tree Care, 49% were not settled, and 6% of the complaints where not pursued. This large share of unresolved complaints could well result from the informal structure and temporary nature of many companies that may cease doing business or change the company name.

Whether you are considering hiring a tree care company to work at your property, or have done so dozens of times in the past, your interests will be protected better through licensing. Under Georgia law a person must be licensed to cut hair, build buildings, do electrical & plumbing work, and work in dozens of other trades. Given the high stakes, we believe tree care should be subject to the same kind of licensing. Here are some of the biggest issues that we at GFASTI hope to overcome or ameliorate through statewide licensing:

  1. Appropriate qualifications: Consumers should know immediately what a business can do for their property. Whether a business is qualified to assess trees or perform tree work, or neither one, we believe that property owners should have that information at their fingertips. Some companies that currently do not employ a certified arborist nonetheless hold themselves out as such, provide advice and other recommendations, and then proceed to solicit work. Consumers will be able to see whether a company is licensed or not. Trucks and business cards will contain contractors’ license numbers. Companies will not be able to operate without a license.
  2. Adequate Insurance: Consumers should know that a company carries insurance to cover workers and their property. When tree work is done improperly, workers can be injured and property damage can result. Consumers should be free to choose amongst licensing companies knowing that any licensed company is adequately insured. Consumers will be able to see whether a company is licensed, and that will give them confidence regarding insurance without having to be insurance experts. All licensed companies will have insurance adequate to the type of work they do, and if their insurance lapses, consumers be made aware immediately.
  3. Proper Training: Consumers should know that workers have basic knowledge about their work, preventing trees from being destroyed through lack of training. Further, companies should be held accountable to do basic training for employees. Consumers will be able to see whether a company is licensed, and that will give them confidence that the workers have minimum training. All licensed companies will be required to train their employees, document that training, and their license will depend on maintaining minimum levels of training.
  4. Legality: Consumers should know that a company follows the law. Companies (or officers of companies) that are convicted of serious crimes of a professional nature – such as breaking contracts, failing to insure workers, violating employment law or environmental protections, could have their license revoked. Consumers will be able to see whether a company is licensed, and that will give them confidence regarding that company’s past behavior. In addition to seeing whether a company is licensed, consumers will be able to see the length of time a company has been licensed.

The following stories illustrate the challenges facing the tree industry in Georgia. In many of these cases licensing would have improved the outcome for the consumers / homeowners.

Crane Overload
This class of tree accident has occurred at least six documented times in Georgia in the last decade:
A tree care company utilized a crane hoping to tackle larger projects more efficiently with the larger machinery. The crane approach worked well, and the company completed many projects successfully. Unfortunately, the company obtained only minimal training for their employees regarding the proper operation of cranes. On a project in suburban Atlanta, the company was hired to perform a tricky removal over a house. The limbs of the tree were removed safely and the crew began removing the heavier trunk portions. The operator couldn’t see or properly judge the size of piece that the cutter was cutting off. Likewise, the cutter failed to understand the limitations of the crane based on radius. Between the two of them they allowed a very heavy piece of the trunkwood to transfer to the crane suddenly, overloading the crane toppling it onto the house. This caused serious damage to the house and crane, risking injury and death in the process. The homeowner faces serious costs and delays in returning to their house.

Unlicensed Tree Service Operator
written by Eric Gansauer, ISA Certified Arborist PD-0074AM, TRAQ
I work for the Columbus Consolidated Government (CCG) Forestry and Beautification Division of the Public Works Department. The CCG is the only municipality within the state of Georgia that requires a special “Tree Expert License” in order to operate a tree service business within the City. Those with business locations outside of the CCG must also hold this license along with the CCG Business license regardless if they hold a business license in the county of their location. This is unique to Columbus. The Tree Expert License involves passing a written and field exercise test that is administered by myself. The test is loosely based on the ISA Certified Arborist study material which is available for candidate to access for study. Those holding the ISA Certified Arborist, Certified Tree Worker or BCMA credentials are exempt from taking the test as long as they maintain their credentials with ISA. There are however a large number of companies and individuals performing tree work within the City that are not licensed and many of these are not insured either.

On July 30, 2020 one such individual was attempting to fell a dead Loblolly Pine that was located in the front yard of a residence in a middle-class neighborhood of the City. The tree had been dead at least six to nine months and had loose sloughing bark and brittle branches. The tree was at least 80-90 feet tall and 28-30 inches in diameter. The contractor did not climb or use any type of aerial lift to assist in the removal but attempted to fell the tree in one piece from the ground. Within the Right-of-Way on the same side of the street were overhead conductors including three-phase distribution primary conductor, secondary distribution conductors, telephone heavy cable conductors, and CATV conductors. The tree veered approximately 30 feet from the intended lay, crashing through all the overhead conductors rupturing the primary and secondary electrical, and CATV conductors and causing stretching damage to that telephone cable. The broken primary conductors remained energized briefly and started fires at several locations in leaf litter and melted a copper water service pipe that was buried approximately 14 inches in the ground. At least one neighboring home sustained severe damage from the surge of electricity by partially melting the service panel as well as destroying all electrical and electronic devices in the home. When I arrived at the scene, four police units and two fire units with their full crews were on site to protect the area. A City Forestry crew was dispatched to remove the debris from the ROW to allow utility crews access to repair damage. I am not aware of the total number of man and equipment hours were spent on this incident.

The ”Contractor” in this case has had a long history of causing damage and then running, but this time he could not run. Along with my other Ordinance Administration duties, I am a sworn Enforcement Officer. The contractor was cited for not having the CCG Tree Expert License and not having the required CCG Business license. He will be in court in November. On at least one previous occasion this same contractor has felled a large tree into a neighboring house. In that situation he was gone before I could arrive to apprehend him. In that case he caused approximately $25,000 in damage.

I am of the opinion that a State licensing requirement is grossly overdue. An industry that generates the highest death rates of its workers NEEDS to have state regulation not only to protect those workers but to give the consuming public that same protection. I am happy to provide any input and serve on any committee to move this forward into the hands of the legislature.