Neighbor's water in yard

hgtvdream.comMarch 23, 2010

All of our neighbors have done things to make the water situation in our backyard worse (cutting down trees, putting up decks and sheds), but the people behind our house have been the worst and their land slopes down to our yard (in the photo, they're behind the white fence). Over the years, the house has tripled in size (increasing the surface area of the roof and reducing the area of their backyard); they built an enormous deck; and last year, they covered the rest of the yard with pavers, and their leaders drain onto the pavers. So far this year, after a rain storm or melting snow our yard has flooded 3 times -- one of those times, our "lake" was 7 inches deep. Some of the water in my yard would naturally drain into the yard of my side neighbor, since there is a brook a few houses past his house, but he thought we were partly to blame for his water problem, so he built a berm along the property line. My family has been in this house for 54 years, and we've never seen it like this. I believe that our backyard can handle the water from our own yard, as it did for so many decades, but this is too much now.

I called the building inspector and he won't do anything. He says that the back neighbor's deck and pavers aren't considered impervious surfaces. Off the record, he told me that we could build some kind of berm along the back neighbor's fence, even though the water might then flow over or around the side neighbor's berm and into his yard. He also thought I might be able to bury a big bucket in my yard with a skimmer pump in it and a hose running toward the street (though I'm not sure how to keep the electric cord dry and we don't have an outlet outdoors). What do you think of these solutions? We have many big trees in the yard, so digging up the yard would not be great. Also, in this NJ suburb, the houses to both sides are only about 10 feet away. I'm getting so desperate that I was reading about how they sandbagged the river in Fargo, ND. Thx.

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The inspector's an idiot. Pavers, especially laid with polymeric sand (which is the standard), are just as impervious as asphalt or concrete. I'd start by going over his head, and potentially getting a lawyer involved if that gets you nowhere. Telling you to build a berm or install a pump is essentially telling you to expose yourself to liability by pushing the water onto someone else's property.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 6:26PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think I would also try to get around this particular inspector, to his superiors or perhaps to your elected representatives to whom he technically reports. You can avoid creating rancour with him by letting him know you are not content to suck up the effects and asking who would have the power to change the constraints on what he is able to do.

Otherwise, I think you might have to take the neighbour to court. It makes since you might be liable, obviously the other people should be liable too. You have the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property, freedom from nuisance, etc. etc. not to mention relief from any actual damage.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 7:11PM
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Someone not that long ago had a long, wonderful post about what the law says about just this situation. I'll post the link if I can find it.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 8:28PM
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OK, I can't figure out how to post the link, but do a search on this forum for "Civil law of drainage." Hopefully that will be helpful.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 8:38PM
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The neighbor who built a dam along your property line has probably acted unlawfully and the advice to do the same should get your building inspector fired (if any government ever fired anybody).

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 8:59PM
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I always have to laugh when the first thing people say is, get an attorney, get an attorney! What are you? My sue-happy neighbor? LOL.

I'm guessing most people who say this haven't been through a costly drawn out lawsuit, and haven't lived the rest of their lives next to a hellish nightmare like my neighbor (they initiated a frivolous lawsuit, by the way, but we countersued after many months of ongoing harassment). It's not as cut and dry as everyone makes it out to be.

So I say, be neighborly and give these people the benefit of the doubt!

I don't know that I'd blame the inspector. He is only able to enforce municipal code, and if there's not a written code against the deck or pavers, it's out of his hands, he's simply the messenger, doing his job. I think it's nice that he offered alternate suggestions.

The fact is, if the neighbor installed pavers, and whether or not that is what's truly causing the problem, can't necessarily be determined by him. I think most inspectors would look at it and advise that your yard doesn't have proper drainage, not who's fault it is. That's not his position, nor do I think it justifies getting him fired..LOL.

It's really a civil matter, if you choose to go that route, but that would definitely be my very last resort. In most states you have to prove a nuisance AND damages, not just the annoying 7 inches of puddles in your yard after it rains. And the natural flow of rainwater, not drainage from a neighbors downspout, etc., I THINK would be a pretty weak argument, if it would even make it to the courts. By that time, you could have just spend on the money on installing a drainage system.

Not that I don't feel for your situation, but the fact is your home is on a downslope with neighbors behind you at a higher elevation. So is ours. We eventually installed a retaining wall on our side of the fence which sits at the bottom of their slope, realizing we'd never win with an ongoing erosion issue as rainwater flows from their property, into our yard, and down our driveway. It's not their fault, no more than it is ours, and if I moved into a home and neighbors got upset with me for installing pavers, performing landscaping, installing a deck, I'd be pretty upset. They own the property, and they are well within their right as long as they aren't violating municipal codes. That's the reality, and are they even aware of the problems you are having, or that you suspect they have contributed to those problems? For all they know, this was happening long before they came along.

Neighbor situations can get really ugly, especially if they feel they are being attacked like they did something wrong. The neighbors behind us (not the neighbors from hell) at a higher elevation decided to "level off" their property one day, using the bottom 10 inches or so of our fence as a retaining wall. Yeah, imagine my surprise when I go back there one day and the other side of my fence is buried. I knew they did it intentionally, but to maintain neighborly relations I approached them and "pretended" to believe that it must have been from erosion from them installing garden beds. Clearly, it was not, but I also didn't want to put them on the defense. So, I asked them nicely, telling them why this won't work, that my fence will rot, etc. and that they'd be responsible for damages if that should occur. They weren't happy, and I have no idea what they were thinking, or maybe they weren't thinking at all, but they removed it and we still say hi and maintain neighborly relations. So, the moral of the story is, you are going to get better results being nice to your neighbors that you have to live next to until you or they decide to sell.

I think the guy on the other side built a berm, which my understanding is it's his legal right to do as long as that berm is on his property. While most municipalities don't allow you to drain your gutters/downspouts onto someone's property, I am not familiar with someone being unable to build a berm. He's in effect trying to protect his property from water damage. I'd talk to him about your problems, and what you suspect has caused it, he might offer you suggestions, but at least he'll be aware you didn't create the problem.

With that all said, and trying to look at this objectively, I have a suggestion.

Rather than digging up your yard and running drainage, which I agree is a lot of work but probably practical in reaching your end result (though costly I'm sure), I'd first try contacting a reputable landscaper, with good credentials, and ask what you can do to fix your problem.

Maybe it involves some coordination with your neighbors behind you or next to you, maybe not, but at least you have a starting point, and when and if you approach your neighbor, maybe they'll realize the problem is in part due to their actions (if that is determined), however indirect and unintentional it was on their part, it will be more incentive for them to contribute to the costs involved.

I would think most people would go out of their way to maintain neighborly relations, rather than create an unbearable scenario. At the very least, at least you took the opportunity to try to resolve it with them before pursuing other avenues.

Sounds like installing a berm at the back is only going to create problems for two neighbors around you, and I'd imagine that would get quite ugly.

I would assume that any landscaper would be extremely knowledgable in these aspects. I'd contact at least three of them, see what they all have to say.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:04PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

It's a good point that talking to the neighbours should have been mentioned first.

What struck me, however, was that the tripling of the house size would connect with the permits process, and it is far better usually if the city approaches the neighbours to tell them they are obligated to spend a whole whack of money than if you have to ask them to do so. If several people's properties are affected, it doesn't even have to come out which neighbour complained.

And besides, I tried the "talk to them" route and from both sides have been insulted and ridiculed for my trouble, leading to the end of the relationship anyway. In both cases, I wish I had just pretended we did not have a friendly relationship and at least taken them to small claims court for damages.

Obviously, mileage may vary.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 6:53PM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

There is probably something in your city code about what percent of your lot you can have covered with buildings. Research your city building ordinances and find out if your neighbor is in violation of codes and did not get a variance or or did anything without permits. You as a neighbor would have to be notified if he asked for a variance. Sometimes you need an attorney that is familiar with local codes and laws to check up on things and if the nighbor is in violation have the attorney send a letter to the city and the neighbor about the issue. Let the city be the bad guy and inforce their rules. Remember, with government, the squeaky wheel gets the oil is the rule.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 7:06PM
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kimcoco, there's a difference between saying to involve an attorney, to help figure out the intricacies of the law, and saying "sue the b****."

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 8:28PM
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I understand the difference, Marcinde. I wasn't suggesting that anyone was saying "sue the B****" , there are no hidden meanings here.

There's nothing wrong with getting an attorney to seek out advice, but my point is that I don't see it as a first priority BEFORE attempting a talk with the neighbors unless you already have the intention of escalating it to a legal issue, especially given that it has been confirmed that municipal codes were not violated. It's not a matter at this point that requires third party intervention.

I'd approach my neighbor, and just like I learned in Common Courtesy 101 back when I was in kindergarten, I'd introduce myself and say, "Hi, I'm the neighbor behind you, glad to meet you. Here are some cookies I baked. Hey, I've been having a problem recently and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it, and I was wondering if you had any ideas. See the problem is... ... ... and I've only noticed the problem since you installed the pavers, but I don't know, maybe there's been an increase in rainfall this year or some other problem I may not be aware of, but I'd like to get some professional advice from some landscapers." And the other neighbor says, "Oh, I never even thought of the water runoff when I installed the pavers. Let's go take a look....", At this point the neighbor is aware of the problem, and that their actions may or may not have caused those problems. Go from there. Not all neighbors will be receptive, compassionate, willing to help, but some do. We go above and beyond to help out our neighbors. I see it as a matter of decency and respect. And believe me, it WILL benefit you in court, if it gets to that point, if you can show that you are the level headed, reasonable individual. All the documents you have, i.e. professional written advice from landscapers, will also be to your benefit. Documented discussions, etc.

Our houses are getting bigger, our yards getting smaller, our schedules tighter, etc., etc. and we know less and less of our neighbors who live just feet from us, and yet, our attorney is on speed dial and we have no idea the phone number of the person living next door. What a world we live in.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:16AM
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"I've called the building inspecter" hardly constitutes "confirmation" of anything.

Nope, I've never sued anyone. Come from a long line of people who don't go that direction. I tend to have the courtesy and gumption to deal openly with others and in a friendly manner.

But the Good Book does advise us to be "as wise as serpents" in addition to being as "innocent as doves".

I've managed to live long enough to check facts, to pursue matters diligently. So called "experts" at city offices don't always do their homework.

My 75 year old mother just recently protected a great deal of financial interest by pursuing a matter diligently. Someone over the phone tried to tell her that legal documents sent from their office were correct. I'm sure the person said it in good faith, but their facts were wrong. My mom is refined, kind, courteous, and, man, oh man, she does her homework.

To tell someone on the internet to simply take the first advice, over the phone by what we know here, as gospel, simply isn't providing good counsel. We have no real clue about the situation. I agree wholeheartedly that we can only give very general advice and that one good piece of advice is to try and keep matters neighborly. But another good piece of general advice is to do due diligence. Check the facts thoroughly.

One way to do that is to sit down with an attorney ... or someone else well versed in the municipal code ... and get a second opinion about what rights you have.

If it turns out that your neighbor is within the codes, so be it. Meet with them and seek an answer to the problem, if possible.

If, on the other hand, the neighbor(s) have not followed municipal law, then one would be better informed and would still be able to choose between a range of actions, including keeping the peace at all costs, if that seems best.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 1:03AM
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I agree your neighbor probably is the culprit here, have you approached your neighbor about the situation? Is it possible that they can help deffer the cost of having drain tile placed? Or a drainage system installed? Do you get water in your basement? Assuming you have one. This is also something the city can't ignore if the problem is being created by your neighbor. Are you documenting everything? Get pics. and record the length of time it takes for your lawn to drain. It sounds to me that this is a large area and slow draining. All it will take is a very significant amount of rain in a short amount of time and there could be serious problems affecting your foundation. Have you been checking for any of this? Take a look around. It maybe slow damage but still it is damage. Don't rule out the berm. They can look quite nice when done well. It can screen out the neighbor. Also rain gardening is a great way to help the environment as well. That is another option. Research this idea you may like it as it uses drainage systems that some cities are willing to help pay for because the run off is not going into the city storm sewers. You may be able to reap some rewards here.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 11:50PM
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One reason that made me think of a landscaper as well is that rock gardens require a lot of water to maintain, so if you were to go that route as opposed to running a drainage system, depending on which is less costly and most feasible, it's another option to look into that may work to your benefit.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 12:04PM
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bernd ny zone5

I would get a landscaper involved who knows about drainage, since the poster could not solve it him/herself.
I once moved into a house with a backyard sloping from a hill towards that house. During rain with frozen ground, I had water in the basement. The first principle is that the ground should slope away from the house on all sides to prevent that. After correcting the slopes (6 ft on back and sides), I figured out how the water accumulating in the back could escape to the front via shallow ditches I dug.

I noticed 15 years ago that new houses were getting built behind my house, with wetland between those and my house. I got the town inspector and the Army Corp of Engineers involved because one of these houses threatened to block natural (down hill) drainage. That house then was built with a kind of moat in its frontyard. Nobody may block natural drainage.

A neighbor to my present house has a problem directing the water from one of his gutters, and that washed soil into my yard. I bought a lot of new expensive hostas, and after a recent rainstorm soil got washed away again. So I brought in 30 bags of topsoil and created a berm along the fence to protect the plants. I thought I had the right for this berm, since other options are available to him which he did not take.

The option of having a pump in a well in the middle of the poster's backyard, like making the backyard like a flat bathtub, does seem to be a doable idea as a last resort.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 7:52PM
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Jon 6a SE MA

First, I would check to see if these projects are in conformance with the building codes. Second check to see if your neighbor has applied for the required permits to triple the size of their house; added bathrooms and increased the septic capacity if not city sewerage? I would be especially suspect of the deck and pavers which you say "they" have installed. In any event they are responsible for obtaining permits. I would have thought that if they have encroached so much onto your property than you would have to have been notified for any variances required.

If you find permits are lacking, then you can negotiate firmly with your neighbor. If they have the permits then your only option would be landscaping. A bucket and pump is a poor idea. You would need a good drainage plan to get the water out of your back yard, around your house and onto the street area (drainage trenches). Put in some drainage grills to drain the "pool" at its lowest spot in your yard and trench it off your property with peforated plastic pipe set into trenches filled under the pipes with gravel, cover the pipe with "socks" to keep silt out and cover the pipe with gravel and top off with landscape fabridc to again keep the gravel and pipe from clogging. That and remember that water runs downhill and find a place for it to go...not into someone else's property.

Berms and directing your problem into your neighbor's property(ies)is a bad idea, sure to alienate neighbors and lead to unintended consequences such as higher berms by them which may worsen your problem or as others have mentioned frivilous or serious lawsuits. Don't become the same bad neighbor you feel the guy in back of you has become.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yes: It seems if multiple adjacent properties begin damming water flow through the drainage corridor the whole is going to become a pond.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 6:02PM
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A follow-up to what I did about the flooding problem I wrote about: I had a few landscapers come over to suggest solutions. Two recommended putting in a catch basin (one recommended 2 or 3 small basins) and piping the water to the street. Two others thought there wasn't enough elevation to do this. One of these two initially recommended a dry well, then decided a better idea was to make the backyard slope toward the house (a terrible idea, in my opinion) and then install a drain closer to the house. The other recommended putting a huge fiberglass tank underground -- it would collect the water and allow it to seep slowly into the ground.

I went with the catch basin idea proposed by a landscaper with lots of drainage experience and who guaranteed me that it would work. His crew put in one large catch basin (18"x18"), 130' feet of 4" pipe out to the street, a load of topsoil to make the yard slope better toward the basin, and new grass seed. And, yes, we did have enough elevation for the drain to work, and should now be ready for anything. By the way, this landscaper's charges were about half the price of the next lowest estimate.

I'm not happy about what my neighbors have done, but the landscaping solution was a lot better than quarreling with them or getting an attorney. Thanks for all the comments.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2010 at 11:22AM
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Thanks for the update. Understand the decision--lot's of things come into play. Others have the professional knowledge on these things, so I haven't a clue how this might work ...So I'll just send many positive thoughts your way that when your new drainage system is "tested" it works extremely well for many, many years.

I'd say you are a good neighbor to have...not sure they deserve you!


    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 9:54AM
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First, you have lived there 54 years and enjoyed a water free back yard. You have established an eminent right of senority to continue in that right.
Second, your not the drain pit for every other yard in the neighborhood. Pesticides, lawn fertilizer, everything washes into your yard. It is nusiance and can be considered trespass. It is a damage claim regardless what people tell you. Health issues, vegetation that is killed due to standing water, stagnent water drawing in west nile carrying mosquito's yada yada...not to mention that is just shows a lack of respect for you and your property rights which I am sure is the biggest thorn for you.

Why did they (county or city) not notify you when they were reveiving the permit. If the county did not comply with it's own land use codes, and allowed construction to interfere with your use, they have been found accountable in the past. Your supposed to be able to attend the hearing review of that permit application and voice your concerns, ie: drainage. The county then makes it a condition of construction to install drainage methods before they approve the permit. It should have been dumped on the neighbor wishing to create the problem.

Talk to your neighbor but be prepared that they may not care. Follow up that conversation with a letter expressing your concerns. Legally, if the county or city approved the work, they have done nothing wrong....on their property but if the construction caused a nuisance or trespass onto your property, then you have a right to expect to be restored the the quality and value of your property that you enjoyed prior to the construction.

It is not fair to make your house the "swale" after the fact. Especially since you have lived there 54 years. It's ridiculous.

Now, you can make a claim against their homeowner policy. My policy covers damage that I, my kids, my dogs, my horses, MY ACTIONS, may do to another's property. My neighbor stripped 3 acres of vegetation to bare ground and the wind blew soils and killed my trees and other vegetation. Their insurance covered the damage and restoration costs to my property.

Talk to the neighbor first to avoid that whole ugly living situation. Talk to the county and check records.

Your civil issue falls under nusiance and trespass.

Third, good luck. These are the worst things to deal with is neighbor problems. Remember they are trying to exercise their property rights and build on so use that sympathetic point when talking about your desire to do the same. You could not be approved to build a shed in an area of unstable (wet) soils now so you've lost the use and rights you had before.

They may agree to have you put in a diversion swale and their insurance pay the claim.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 12:05PM
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Follow up. I have done 83 million, yes million in underground water, sewer, storm lines, well beyond the capability of the average landscaper. A catch basin would work and you want that at the bottom of the slope as far away from your foundation as possible with diversion drains to the street. Your going to have to use filter fabric to ensure the water flowing into the street, and eventually the storm lines that feed to rivers and lakes are free from soils and silts that will kill the fish.

Water log in soils can cause problems with your foundation and concrete and sealants 54 years ago were not as sophisticated as they are now. Depending on when the house was built behind you, you may still have eminent right if yours was there first or you did not have this issue until further construction.

I can't see your picture to give you better advice. Sorry

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 5:12PM
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manda3(8a DFW Texas)

Problem Solved
This thread is old and she already stated in June that s/he installed a water basin.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 6:51PM
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