From the Forum – Advice on Easement

Photo by PoPville flickr user washingtonydc

Advice on Easement:

“I could use some advice regarding a developer who is building a four-story condo on the property behind our house. I own the corner lot on a block of row houses. There is a six ft. easement that runs behind all our homes that we used as storage for our trash cans. The developer purchased the property around the corner from our house and the side of the property runs along the easement. The developer tore down the old property and used his half to the easement leaving us with three ft.

The owners on the block in closest proximity to the construction have had some issues with the developer over the last several months: our easement was comprised and construction was shut down by the city, our fences have been broken, unsecured building materials have fallen into our backyards damaging personal property, open containers of food and drinks are left for days at a time, construction workers have walked along the tops of our fences or nailed things directly into the fence without our permission. It might not seem like much, but it starts to add up.

The latest issue we have is that the developer re-poured the concrete over our easement and sloped it towards our backyards. The gutter for the condo runs from the fourth floor all the way down to ground level and is pointed to the top of the sloped easement. It’s obvious that he’s trying to divert water from his building so the floor built below ground doesn’t have any moisture issues, but in doing so, he’s adding extra water to our backyards which I think poses a problem for our yards and patios long-term.

Long story short, does anyone have any suggestions about what recourse the owners have to get the developer to fix the easement? Does he have the legal right to change the slope of our easement? And if not, how can we get him to change it back? He told an owner on the block that he would fix it in the spring, but the condos are due to go on the market any day and I believe he intends to ignore us and leave it up to the new owners to figure out.

I’ve tried calling and emailing him in the past but he’s been quite contentious and ignored any of the concerns we have. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!”

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16 Comment

  • You need a lawyer. There are some laws in DC concerning easements, water run off, property damage, etc, and I don’t think you’ll get the right answers in this forum. Moreover, I suspect you want to get the lawyer involved while the developer still owns the property.

  • gotryit

    I remember reading that you’re not allowed to dump your runoff water onto someone else’s property. I don’t remember where / when, so that’s not very helpful. But you’ll probably need a lawyer unless you can get someone at DCRA to really take your cause up. Just don’t hold your breath for DCRA.

  • The recourse is to call a property lawyer. The developer is encroaching on your property and you may bring a civil action against him.

  • I work for the city in development and you need a lawyer. its your easement. first are you sure it is ALL yours? or does some of it belong to the city? You may need a very good survey. Do you pay property tax on it? His development plans are public record assuming he permits or approval from BZA or ZC. is he illegally building on esement? You can get a stop work order. But yes, you need a lawyer.

    • You don’t need a lawyer to get a stop work order. You only need to figure out if he’s doing anything contrary to the permit. Get a copy, review, and call the DCRA. That, I would do as soon as possible.

      but yeah – you still need a lawyer

  • Wow, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t work for the city, but it sounds like what he is doing with the roof runoff is almost certainly illegal. Depending on the size and slope of the roof, that could be enormous amounts of water going into your yard during a heavy rain. In addition to other suggestions, try getting in touch with your DC councilmember for help and advice.

  • this whole “he took his half of the easement and left you with 3 feet” thing seems wrong. Typically you would be entitled to use the entirety of it, not half of it, but who knows maybe it does state that. This seems like a potential major issue that you can leverage to make him fix all the problems under threat of him having to tear 3 ft of his building down. As everyone said, get a lawyer pronto.

  • Having dealt and researched issues related to a backyard easement before, it is typically on one side of a property line or other, even if the easement is for mutual / common use.

    If he’s built on your property line be prepared for a long battle to payment for what he’s taken. Best you can do is lawyer up and be ready to put a lien on his property after you’ve got a fully informed legal opinion.

  • btw. If he won’t listen to you, post signs on the property summarizing your grievances. Or post the signs on your property so that it’s in full view of any potential buyers.

    It might scare away potential buyers, and that would get his attention.

  • who is the developer?
    Call the DCra illegal construction hotline. They will send inspector out right away. # is on DCRA website.

  • In general, when people say ‘lawyer up’, how should they find one that will take a particular case? Phone book? Angie’s list? Bar association?

  • OP here. Thanks for all the feedback.

    Just to clarify, he developer did own half the easement, but not the other half. And the city told him he had to build right up to the property line in order to get approved for construction.

    I called Illegal Construction and filed a compliant. The inspector assigned to the case talked to me and said that regardless of who owns the easement, the developer cannot divert runoff from his property to public and/or private property. He also can’t change an easement without a permit, which he doesn’t have.

    The inspector, who was awesome and very responsive, saw that the developer hasn’t had his final inspection yet so he can’t sell the condos until then. She has his contact information is going to schedule an inspection with him present.

    Northshaw brings up a good point, how do I find a lawyer who handles this sort of thing?

    • I’m dealing with an identical issue and have filed a lawsuit. Please ask POP to share my email with you (OP only)

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