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Water Damage and Neighbor Disputes

Water Damage and Neighbor Disputes

Water can get in areas of a home that are the most vulnerable. and cause the most damage. It is not uncommon for water damage to be caused by a neighbor, and disputes may arise.

Surface Water

In general, a neighbor is not responsible for damage to your property caused by runoff from naturally occurring rain and land conditions. If your neighbor has landscaped, or altered the property in some other way that causes more water to run onto your land than would naturally occur, you may have some recourse to recover any damages to your property. Different rules of law may place liability upon your neighbor. It is important that you talk to an experienced real estate attorney to review the rules in your state before you take action.

Reasonable Use Rule -- Most states follow the reasonableness approach. In order to succeed in a lawsuit against a neighbor, you need proof showing that your neighbor did something to the land or property, that the alteration was unreasonable, and that the alteration changed the natural flow of water on to your property. Courts examine several factors:

  • How important the alteration was.
  • Whether the increased damage from surface runoff was reasonably foreseeable to your neighbor at the time the alteration was made.
  • The comparison of the damage to your property versus the increased use or value of your neighbor's property.

Common Enemy Rule -- Derived from English Common Law, rainwater and other natural sources of water were a common enemy to all landowners. Under this rule, followed by multiple states, each landowner is expected to protect their property from surface and runoff water. Landowners can take whatever steps they wish, such as building dikes or drainage ditches. If surface water runs from your neighbor's land onto your land, causing more damage than natural or usual, you are still expected to protect your land from this water.

Many states still follow the common enemy rule. However, most have modified it to make it less strict. Under the modified rules, you may be able to hold your neighbor liable for damage to your property if the neighbor is negligent in making modifications to their property.

Civil Law Rule -- The civil law rule, also known as the Natural Flow Rule, imposes liability on any landowner that changes their land in a way that diverts the natural flow of surface water across the land.

The civil law rules are modified in most states, and allow changes, so long as the modifications are reasonable. Under the modified civil law rule, the land owner seeing the increased harm may also be expected to take reasonable measures to protect their land from damage due to the increased surface water.

Careless Water Damage

If your property is damaged because of the negligence of your neighbor, you may be able to collect compensation for the damages. Also you can consult with a real estate attorney and get a court order that directs your neighbor to stop doing whatever is causing the water damage to your property.

Careless water damage is often the result of simple accidents and forgetfulness. Sources of these types of damages include leaking or broken water hoses, leaky sprinkler heads, broken, frozen or burst water pipes, and even clogged rain gutters.

What Damages Must Be Paid?

If you prove that your neighbor is responsible for water damage that you suffered, you may be able to collect damages for:

  • The cost of repairs or replacement of water damaged property
  • The cost of staying at a hotel while your home is uninhabitable because of water damage
  • Any medical bills directly related to the water damage, either for physical injury or mental distress
  • Punitive damages if you can show that your neighbor acted maliciously

You can engage a real estate lawyer to appear before a judge requesting a court order that directs your neighbor to fix the problem. Judges are more likely to issue such an order if the fix or repair is minor. The more extensive the repair, however, the less likely it is that a judge will issue such an order.


There are two types of insurance that may cover you if your home or property has been damaged by water -- homeowner's insurance and flood insurance. If your property was damaged by water that has its source within your home, your homeowner's insurance should be able to cover it. In addition, you may be able to collect damages from your neighbor's insurance company.

If the water damage is from an outside source of rising water, homeowner's insurance may not be adequate. It is important that you have adequate insurance coverage in these situations, you should have flood insurance if you are within a flood zone. The majority of mortgage lenders require flood insurance as a condition of your mortgage. If you let coverage lapse or cancel any insurance premium, you may be in default of your mortgage terms. Your lender can make your note and mortgage due and payable.

Learn More About Water Damage and Neighbor Disputes from a Lawyer

Disputes with neighbors are best resolved quickly to minimize conflict. Knowing your rights can help make your negotiations simple, practical, and predictable. Contact a skilled real estate attorney near you to learn about local land and water laws to ensure your dispute is resolved efficiently.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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