Q: My husband and I purchased our first home about six years ago. A short time after we closed, we noticed that the back yard would always flood no matter how little or how much rain fell. The flooding was never disclosed to us. It gets to the point where we have ducks swimming on standing water in our back yard, which is dangerous in itself.
A year or two after moving into the home I found a letter from the city to the previous owners telling them that the city did not have the funds to correct the flooding problem. Obviously, the city and the owners both knew about the issue. The city has told me to find my own engineer and the building department will work with him to correct the issue. But the city won’t commit to telling me who will be responsible for the repair costs. Any suggestions?
A: We’ve known several people that have had a similar situation to yours. However, most of them did not wait six years before trying to solve their drainage problem in their back yard.
While most states have seller disclosure laws and seller disclosure laws require home owners to disclose to buyers any known defects the seller’s know about their home, the back yard flooding problem may not be covered by some, or all of the seller disclosure laws.
If the back yard flooding is affecting the foundation of the property or other portion of the property, you may have a case that the seller should have disclosed that issue to you. And if the seller was required to disclose to you the water problem of the home, you might have a claim against the seller.
However, most seller disclosure laws would require you to address this issue against the seller within a year or so of your buying the home. The time for making a claim against the seller, if you have one, would be whatever the seller disclosure law would require in the state in which you bought your home. In addition to seller disclosure laws, there may be other laws in the books that would allow you to have a claim against the seller if they have misrepresented or committed a fraud against you.
In your situation, you have lived with the water problem – as some of our friends did and have – for many years and based on your question it doesn’t appear all that water is hurting your home (which is a good thing).
You have been told by your city officials that they will work with you on the drainage issue. It may be that much of your back yard floods because you are the low point in your area. You may want to talk further with the person responsible in your city for the drainage in your area and find out what the city’s responsibility is, and who can make that determination.
You might also want to talk to some landscapers about some options that may be available to you. In some situations, you may be able to alleviate some of the drainage issues by changing the landscaping. But, you’ll need to keep in mind that if your property no longer takes that water, some other property might be affected. For this reason, some cities will require you to have a permit to make any grade changes to your property.
Have another conversation with the person from your city after you have spent time education yourself about the situation. Then, you can figure out what has to be done and who is going to pay for it. Please consult with an attorney for more information about whether you have any legal options against your sellers.
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