Neighbor's regrading causing a flood

blairgirlApril 30, 2014

Hi, everyone...

Every so often, we get a monsoon, and then I'm reminded yet again of my neighbor's landscaping that is flooding my basement.

I live at the bottom of a hill; my only neighbor is next door, a bit higher up than me. Several years ago, said neighbor decided to add a deck to his house and relandscape it. He dug up the front yard, added sprinklers, and had his pals put sod down.

In the back, he added a deck that runs across the entire back of the house. I had wanted to add a small deck myself, but I found out I'd have to drill the footers a few feet through the concrete slab.

My neighbor didn't do that. He put a block of wood under the posts holding up the deck (I took pictures of this while he was putting it up.) After that, he took a ton of dirt into his backyard so it's now much higher than my house - it had previously been a gentle slope.

After that, he added sod and put in a fence that has an open clearance of almost a foot between the bottom of the fence and the ground, which is how high he made his land 'improvements.'

Ever since, all I get is flooding in my basement. The water pours into the rear door of the garage, and floods like the Niagara into my basement.

The sump pump failed today, and I had a half foot of water in my basement. The plumber who came to fix it said, do you know what your neighbor did? He's causing the water to flood into your house!

All I did find out was that the neighbor never got a permit for any of the work he did, including the new deck (he's a pal of the mayor, so no problemo!) The town refuses to do a thing, even though I said flooding was never a problem until this idiot completed his grand design for the backyard.

I need to know if I have any recourse, including legal recourse (against him and the town for doing nothing about building permits.)

Should I build a berm to keep the water on his side of the property?

Any advice would be gratefully received!

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Time to make use of officials who gets paid by your taxes. Call the City/county office permits office and have them check and also visit your property and do inspection. Did you signed on no objection application when he was building the deck, if not, then he didn't obtained the permit. If no permit, you can start legal action against him and make him pay for damages and make amendments to his landscape to avoid future damage. Also call your home insurance for their take on it.

Last year, my neighbor was rebuilding his deck and decided to make it screened and covered, he went to get the permit and was told that he will have to ask all the adjoining neighbors sign on his application for no objection. He got signatures from 5 of his neighbors , who can see his deck, before he got the permit to re-build it.

This post was edited by nocturnal on Thu, May 1, 14 at 10:58

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 10:55AM
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No, I never signed off on it. I know he didn't have a permit because I called the building dept. and found out there were no permits at all for the work he did.

Unfortunately, though, he is somehow hooked up to someone in town hall. I called to tell them he's doing all this work with no permits, and the reaction was, so?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:14PM
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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

I had an issue with my neighbors septic system overflowing last summer. Even though the raw sewage wasn't coming on my property the smell was unbearable, especially in the evening.In July of 2013 I made several calls and e-mails to the county health department which didn't seem to get anywhere. This went on for months. I did a little more research and found the contact for the head of the state health department and contacted him. This is when things finally started happening. The neighbor finally made the repairs to his septic system in March 2014.

If your city and/or county doesn't want to do anything about the issue get the state involved.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:21PM
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Forshee, that's horrible that you had to go through all that. What the hell are you paying taxes for if they don't do anything?

I wonder if there's a way to sue the town as well as the neighbor, I'm that aggravated.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:36PM
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Also, you may want to communicate with the City on USPS mail and email, besides, calling. This way, you will be building a documented trail and they will be forced to communicate with you in writing. Their answer will be different.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:50PM
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Seems to me that you need to do a bit of homework, too, to find out just what local ordinances are in effect about drainage on/from private properties.

Have you spoken to the neighbor about the damage he has caused? Although I won't be surprised if he doesn't care, he just might be one of those rare ones with a conscience. I wonder if the problem could be fixed with a French drain on his property.

And, I would pile sandbags against the fence where the water is flowing through at least as a temporary fix -- you need to keep the water out.

In my state there is a department that oversees local governments; if you can't get your town to enforce the ordinances because the guy is a buddy of the administration, maybe your state has someplace similar that you can file a complaint. Or a local TV station or a newspaper with an investigative reporter.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:05PM
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Here is are a couple of links on the law of drainage and floodwater:

Per the second link, New Jersey seems to follow the "reasonable use rule," where courts consider the following factors:

1. Was there reasonable necessity for the property owner to alter the drainage to make use of their land?

2. Was the alteration done in a reasonable manner?

3. Does the utility of the actorâÂÂs conduct reasonably outweigh the gravity of harm to others?

I would consult a local attorney on this matter as to how the courts are likely to apply these factors to your situation and as to how any other laws and regulations (like building permits, etc.) applies the dispute.

Also, I wonder if there is any way for you to resolve this issue in a less adversarial matter or if we are too far gone to do it. You do live next to each other, so if a fight can be avoided, it's preferable.

Another thing to be considered: Is there some way for you to divert the flood water via work done on your land? The "reasonable use" rule would seem to give you the right to do what is reasonably necessary to alter the drainage on your land as long as it is done reasonably.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:14PM
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Rae, thanks for the tip about the sandbags. That never occurred to me (this is done apparently at the shore all the time.)

No, the neighbor doesn't care. He already violated the law by building without a permit, and he has friends in high places, so it's basically my problem.

I'd love to say something about the 'investigative reporter' thing, but suffice it to say in this instance, it would NOT work.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:29PM
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DHL, thanks for the post. Good info, all.

I already contacted an atty to see how this can be handled. I fear it's too late to do much w/the neighbor. He's not going to be reasonable unless he's forced into it by a court.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:32PM
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Nocturnal, good point about doing everything now in writing. I'm going to take this to the next level with an atty, and if I have to spend all that money going to court, I'm also suing the town for not enforcing the law.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:37PM
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I am against frivolous law suits and the general trend our country have adopted towards law suits. However, it is also an important weapon against people who stomp on our rights. In your case, you should consider suing the neighbor, the city, and the contractor/company who worked on his re-modeling. Aim high and wide and you may get justice.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 6:58PM
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Using any lawyer to solve the problem is going to be expensive. There may be better ways to spend the money.

Consider getting a trencher and running a 8" deep trench along the property line. Put in a couple of inches of gravel. Then get some of the concrete pavers that have a 12" side. Stand those in the trench and backfill. You should be left with about a 6" retaining wall that can look pretty good beneath the fence. The adjacent property owner will be left with his own surface water to deal with.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:50AM
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I assume you have pictures of the before and after changes to your neighbors yard?. Take pictures of the water flow when it is raining. Don't concentrate on where it is entering your house but get enough photos to show the water path from your house to the neighbors property. With those photos and the photos from before you should be able to demonstrate what the neighbor changes did to your property.

You may consider getting a court recognized professional engineer involved to get an expert opinion of the problem and solution.

I would not make any significant changes to my yard to correct the problem. If you put in the gravel ditch and wall as suggested, your neighbor can come back and say that is the cause of your problem.

When I did start making changes, I would make sure that you are not shifting the problem from your yard to the neighbor on the other side.

You may start by taking your pictures and engineer report to small claims court. A simple letter from an attorney to you neighbor may be all that is need to get him to correct the problem.

This problem must be corrected now. to prevent damage to your house and prevent a negative impact when you sell the property.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 3:54PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Another approach would be to make a large claim on your property insurance and explain how it happened. If they think it was caused by the neighbor, they will sue him for you.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 7:43PM
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