Water management issues can be dicey with neighbors

Gravity wins
Gravity wins

Reader Question: The neighbors recently have installed 5 drainage hoses aimed at our house. One is from the neighbor on the other side of them. We tried calling the city and the calls have not been returned. Can we do anything to stop them? Mary P.

Monty’s Answer: Hello Mary, and thanks for the question. Water runoff is an issue that requires attention most everywhere. Mother Nature is very hard to predict and control. There are a number of answers that would be helpful in determining the best potential solutions.

Some important questions

Are these properties located in a new or newer subdivision? The word “recently” was mentioned. What caused the neighbors to take the action recently? What is the source of the water reaching your yard? Are the neighbors new residents? Why has there been no water (or drainage hoses) before now? Does your municipality have a storm sewer system? Was there a new home built, a parking lot created or some other event that has triggered the flow of water to your neighbors’ homes? Is the source of water from a basement sump pump? Are there water runoff regulations in the state, county or town?

Some governmental units have established standards in grading subdivisions where water abatement or runoff procedures were defined.

Required research

A little detective work to understand the situation and understanding the law will help decide an approach to a solution. After the questions have been answered, begin to outline a plan that is most likely to keep all the neighbors friendly in the future. Here are a number of potential steps to consider:

The five steps

1. Gather several opinions from contractors experienced in handling water runoff and landscaping methods. Landscapers, grading contractors, home builders and others will have first hand experience and will add their opinions in the hope of gaining new business. The suggested solutions involving water may be quite different with varying cost estimates on the best way to eliminate the issue. Which solution makes the most sense?

2. If it is a newer subdivision, check the courthouse records for restrictive covenants that developers may be required to record with the plat of survey. These documents may establish grading and water runoff standards.

3. In your question you mentioned the word “city.” “Cities” often have aldermen, ward captains, or councilmen with certain delineated territories. Part of their job is to act as a liaison between taxpayers and the municipality. They may be accustomed to dealing with water runoff and drainage issues. Contact your representative for assistance. They can be very helpful.

4. Organize a meeting with the affected neighbors. The research completed to this point may be new information for them. Explain what has been learned and suggest that while the drainage hoses may temporarily solve the problem for them, it is not a good long-term solution for the neighborhood. Be prepared to negotiate.

5. If an agreement cannot be negotiated with the neighbors, then you may have to seek other alternative solutions. If the municipality is large enough to offer services, check to see if there are storm sewers in your street. Storm sewers serve multiple functions for communities and are a potential line of defense. The basic solution here is to install a permeable drainpipe between the lots that pitches toward the street and connects to the storm sewer. This solution will depend on the grade/slope of the property and the policy of the municipality. Berms, swales, ditches and vegetable gardens or flower beds with permeable soils may also offer a solution.

The three water management theories

One of the theories described below is most likely being relied upon in your state.

  • The common enemy – the water is the common enemy, and each property owner must protect himself or herself from it. The lower landowner is at risk.
  • The reasonableness rule – if the party that altered the land was unreasonable they may be liable for damages if damages can be proven.
  • The civil law solution – the upper landowners are responsible for damage to lower landowners. The upper landowner is at risk.

Each state develops twists to these theories. An attorney should be consulted before rattling any sabers. The research above will be helpful in determining the strength of your position should a legal solution to be pursued.


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