Featured News 2014 Water Damage, Neighbor Disputes, and Homeowners’ Insurance

Water Damage, Neighbor Disputes, and Homeowners’ Insurance

Can a neighbor be liable if their burst pipe put your basement underwater? Would they be held responsible if their broken sprinkler system flooded your lawn? What if their tree root damaged your plumbing? Disputes with a neighbor are already difficult enough, and when it comes to water damage, a legal hassle can be added to the mix. When there is damage from surface water runoff or from flooding, there are three different ways that the blame could be assigned.

One way is to apply the reasonableness rule. This is used in most states. This guideline means that when a neighbor makes a change to their property that results in damage to another person's property, then, the neighbor will be held responsible, or liable, if the change was unreasonable. If you can convince a judge that the change was not reasonable, then your neighbor could owe you compensation. So what is a reasonable change? It really will depend on the specifics of your case and on the judge you present your case to. Standards for reasonableness could include how significant or necessary the changes were, whether the adverse results should have been known about ahead of time, and how much damage was inflicted by the alteration.

There are few states that operate on a "common enemy" rule, though some states have since revised this. What this means is that something like rain water would be considered an enemy common to both neighbors. So just because a neighbor diverts some of the water toward your property, they would not be held responsible for the damage inflicted by the excess water. Your neighbor was simply fighting against the rain, and you had the opportunity to do the same but left your property vulnerable. Thankfully, the states that have adjusted this rule have said that only reasonable measures can be taken by a neighbor to divert water. Otherwise, if you took reasonable steps to keep your property from water damage but your neighbor took extreme steps, they could be liable for your water damage.

Finally, there is the "civil law" rule. If a neighbor makes any changes that affect the surface runoff of water, then he or she will be held liable for any resulting damage. In most places that observe this law, however, this holds true only if the neighbor who sustained water damage took reasonable steps to protect their property.

Whichever way it gets proven, if your neighbor is liable for unreasonable actions that caused water damage on your property, then you can file a lawsuit. Not only might this get your neighbor to stop or reverse the harmful action, but you could be compensated. This compensation could cover your repair or replacement bills, the costs of your hotel stay, any medical bills, and perhaps punitive damages if your neighbor caused the damage on purpose, etc.

What about insurance?
There are times, however, where legal technicalities mean that you would have to be covered by homeowners' insurance. That would be for indoor damage. If the damage was outside, then a flood insurance policy might be necessary for you to be covered. It may not matter if your neighbor was responsible. In other cases though, it would be your neighbor's flood insurance that has to cover you.

It all depends on a myriad of complex factors, and real estate law and homeowners' insurance are far from simple matters. Not only does each insurance policy differ from the other, but different states and regions operate by their own laws and have different histories when it comes to previous court decisions. When you face legal problems surrounding your property, do not hesitate to contact a real estate attorney today!

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