“water is leaking into our house. We have cleaned their drain for them, talked to them, but it serves no purpose. We now have mold in our house”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jim Havard

“Dear PoPville,

The owners of the house next door do not maintain it at all. In particular, when there are heavy rain, they let their basement get flooded and do not do anything about it. The sitting water is leaking into our house. We have cleaned their drain for them, talked to them, but it serves no purpose. We now have mold in our house.

Does anyone know how to handle this? Do we file a complaint? With whom? Do we talk to a lawyer? Specific recommendations welcome! We moved out of the country three days ago and dialogue, which has never worked, is not really an option any more!”

25 Comment

  • What neighborhood is this? I have a similar problem.

  • How is the water leaking into your house exactly?

  • Definitely get a lawyer ASAP. If someone can get the house next door to stop smoking inside, I would see no reason why you cannot get the courts to step in in this case. You’ve gone above and beyond by cleaning their drains and trying to maintain a dialogue.

    • Maybe before a lawyer, you could get a contractor to look at your shared wall (in both their basement and yours). Identify that the water is DEFINITELY coming in from their basement, not just upward water pressure from below grade. Speculating here, but it might be good to have a price for fixing in mind before accruing the expense of lawyering up. If its a typical rowhouse arrangement, you probably have an easement on their half of the party wall, and they on yours, and they might let you install additional waterproofing and be willing to split the costs.

      Of course… lawyers would work… but is that really what you want? And you and the lawyer are going to need to get a price for fixing from a contractor eventually.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Agreed 100% unless you already have actual knowledge that the leak is definitely coming from their side, and honestly I’m not sure how you could know this.

        • I read this as that they had established already the water was coming from the neighbor – the whole cleaning the drain (what drain, no idea) read to me as if they had someone already come out and evaluate the situation.

          That’s how they could know it.

          • I was thinking that this must be the drain that the gutters/downspouts feed into, or some other kind of exterior drain that could potentially back up and spill water at basement level (though usually outside).
            OP, did you clean the drain yourselves, or have it done by a plumber? If it’s clogged badly enough, you might need a plumber to fix it.
            I had an exterior drain that was tending to get backed up. I bought a plumber’s snake, but the clog was so solid that the snake didn’t work very well. (I actually made more progress on it with a toilet snake.) Eventually I had a plumber unclog it — they used something that wasn’t a snake (more like a pressure thing, where they fed it into one part of the drain to force the backup out from the other part of the drain), and it worked.

      • Echo this – unless you have deep pockets or the neighbors refuse. I suggest this as a fix (even paying for the water proofing entirely. If you have a lawn service while you are overseas – maybe have them clean the neighbors drain once a month. Yes they should fix and maintain their systems, but they appear to be unwilling. Paying to do it is always cheaper than getting a lawyer – because then they may not pay the judgement so then its round 2, 3, 4….

        • I don’t know how much a French drain costs, and whether having one installed on your property would address the problem with the neighbor’s water… but I was wondering if installing a French drain on the _neighbor’s_ property (perhaps in addition to one on the OP’s property?) might end up being cheaper/more efficient than hiring a lawyer.

          • HaileUnlikely

            A french drain typically runs roughly $100 per linear foot if done by a reputable licensed, bonded, insured contractor who will offer a lifetime warranty and has been around for long enough that it’s reasonable to hope that they might honor the warranty 5-10 years from now if needed. From the sounds of this you *might* only *need* it along the shared wall, but given the work that this entails, it’s something you want to do once, not twice, so I’d go ahead and get the drain put in the whole house, not just the shared wall. All reputable companies in this business will offer free estimates.
            One major caveat: occasionally, when digging the trench to install a french drain, the contractor might discover that you have a footer that is undersized or cracked, and will have to repair/replace that before proceeding. Although you should thank your lucky stars if you discover and fix such a thing while doing an unrelated project and not because major structural issues have begun to manifest themselves, this would add significant cost to the project.

  • I have the same issue!!! I’m reaching out to my insurance to see if they can force the other owner’s insurance to deal with it/make the owners clear their drain!

    • This seems like a pretty good solution. Make the insurance claim and tell them why it’s happening. They’ll go after the third party.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I would not recommend making an insurance claim without thinking about it very very carefully. You might legitimately need to make a claim next month or next year for an unrelated serious reason, and then all of a sudden you have two claims in a short period of time, and having multiple claims in a short period of time typically does not earn one favor with an insurance company.

        • I second this, with the caveat that it depends on the amount of the claim. Water damage claims can be hugely problematic for getting insured in the future and/or selling the house. If the damage is under 10k I would remediate ASAP then try to get the neighbors to fix it. Only if the claim going to be very high should you notify your insurance.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Yes indeed. I neglected to mention in my last post: I had a hard time getting homeowners insurance for my house, and I pay more for it than I would otherwise, because *the previous owner* had a water claim on the house several years ago.

  • I would suggest contacting DCRA. They have an investigative unit that will look into this. We had a different issue with one of our neighbors, but it did result in animals getting into the crawlspace below our roof. DCRA came out to do an inspection on the property, and the owner was cited, and, I believe, fined. They also issue an order to repair it. At the very least, this would be a good first step if you are looking to pursue legal action.

    • Definitely start with DCRA – they LOVE easy cases that fall into their laps – particularly through a neighbor complaint.

      • I called DCRA per the suggestion here and they said that if you own your home and your neighbor owns their home, they cannot do an inspection and your only options are the Multidoor Dispute Resolution Center or going to court.

  • Since you moved, is the house now vacant or do you have tenants? I’d be even more worried about their health and legal claims.

  • It’s expensive, but if you install a french drain and sump pump in your basement then their water won’t cause you problems. I’m getting ready to do that, after I’ve had to tear my basement up a second time for this same problem.

  • A neighbor here had a problem like that. I called the DCRA to it, and they condemned the troublesome neighbor’s house, then repaired his roof and sent him the bill. Marvelous!

  • I have the same issue! I had my contractor install – only on my side – a drain pipe that snakes under my porch to the other side so it now drains away from my house and toward the sidewalk (making sure I didn’t just pass the gushing water to my very nice other neighbor. I also found that their gutters (also not well maintained) were leaking like a sieve onto my house so I used “Great Stuff” foam insulation so that it would go down their gutters as opposed to on my house. All of this worked – no more leaks.

    To those who suggest DCRA, it doesn’t do anything. They tell you to work it out (I tried). The lawyer route will only escalate the tension. The option someone suggested to me was to have my home inspector come and make the determination that it was the neighbor’s house. I didn’t do it, but it was an interesting idea.

  • A lawyer is not likely to help long term. It sounds like these people will never do maintenance or keep on top of issues. Money spent on paper work would probably be much better spent on physical improvements / preventative measures in your home. I once replaced a neighbors drain because he was un willing to spend the $100 or so dollars to stop water damage to both of our houses. Way easier to fix the problem and eat the cost than fight with an idiot.

    • Rasputin

      Wrong. I have litigated this very issue (mold creeping through a common wall) and if the claim is meritorious it results in a judgment. If the owner of the offending property is a deadbeat it goes pretty fast – first a default is entered, then a default judgment is issued by the clerk, then an ex parte proof is held where you prove your damages to the judge with no opposing party present. Once you get a judgment you can put a judgment lien on the place. If the house is an investment or estate property, you can foreclose or force a sale using a writ of fieri facias. A lawyer can explain all of this and help the people through it. A new owner would probably go a long way to performing routine maintenance (hopefully).

  • Consider getting opinion of Home Inspector, independent 3rd party evaluation of the problem, costs to fix, remediate, or tear out & rebuild. Their Report gives acknowledgment of the situation, and future expert witness, if needed. Report could be given to adjacent property owner as disclosure and open for negotiation to remedy the problem. No lawyer, no insurance claim, no contractor, just yet. Shop around for the right Home Inspector (I know of none) discuss current problem as you see it. Go from there.

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