Water from property next door has a natural right to flow


July 18, 2004

Dear Mr. Azrael:

What are rules in general as to the directing of rain spout or sump pump water to my property from a house next door, even if their ground is slightly higher than mine?

Dear Reader:

The general rule is that the owner of the higher land has a right to have surface water flow naturally from the high ground over the land of the lower landowner. So, when falling rain and melting snow flow naturally from upper land to lower land, the owner of the lower land has no right to erect embankments that change the natural flow of the surface water.

On the other hand, the owner of upper land has no right to discharge water in any different fashion from the natural course of drainage. The upper landowner cannot construct pipes or channels that discharge water at one point to the lower land.

These general rules are subject to the principle of "reasonableness." The owners of both properties must act reasonably to avoid unnatural accumulations or discharges of surface water on each other's property.

Applying these principles, your next-door neighbor, owning the upper land, has a right for rainwater to flow naturally from his land to lower land, including yours. However, the neighbor cannot, by means of rain spouts or a sump pump, artificially increase the natural flow of surface water from his property to yours.

A lower landowner can recover damages when an upper landowner improperly causes surface water to drain to the lower property. That may include the cost of restoring land damaged by mud or debris from the increased flow of rainwater from the higher ground. In addition, damages for the loss of use of the land may be recovered.

Where the damage is continuing, the lower landowner may obtain a court-ordered injunction, prohibiting the upper landowner from continuing to direct surface water onto the lower land. Similarly, the upper landowner may obtain an injunction to prevent the lower landowner from obstructing the natural flow of surface water.

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