Rental Property Yard is Flooding

21 Replies

Good Morning!

I have a single family home that I purchased in Southeast Michigan in January 2018.  I have a tenant in there now, and am working with a property manager due to the fact that I do not live in Michigan.  Twice now the tenant has called the property manager to communicate that the back yard is flooding when it rains, providing pictures that substantiate the claim.  The flooding is not impacting the house, just making the backyard pretty wet for a day or two until the precipitation infiltrates the soil (I have included a picture below).  I should point out that Michigan has had an excessively wet year with a lot of snow over the winter, frozen ground late into the spring, and a healthy amount of rain the last few months.

My property manager is telling me the flooding is a significant problem, and that I should take action.  His recommendation is that I should go back to the seller, who did not disclaim any flooding or grading issues in the Seller's Disclosure, and hold their feet to the fire.  His point is that taking care of grading issues is not going to be cheap, and this has to be a historic issue.

Trying to weigh in on other experience and get a second opinion, I also talked to my real estate agent (who is also an investor in Southeast Michigan and has been a pretty honest resource as a new investor).  His thoughts were doubtful that this is a disclosure issue, and should be contributed to a late, wet winter, which led to saturated ground in the wet spring.

I am hoping you all may have some insight from your experiences on how to handle the situation to keep the tenant happy and my property safe while limiting my costs as much as possible. 

@Gary Lawson I am with your realtor, I don't think you could go back to the seller. Then even if you really wanted to, I would guess you would spend more on legal fees that it would cost to do some drainage and grading.

I really haven't done a lot of landscaping and grading on projects, but the fact that it looks so flat, you would almost have to do a small grade from the house all the way to the back. Then it would dump on the border of the neighbors yard some. If it is not affecting the house, I wouldn't worry to much about it. I would just watch it and see if it is a recurring issue vs just the longer winter and extra heavy rainfall. 

What are the dates the yard flooding happened? What city is the property in? I’m curious if it coincided with recent big rains or smaller rains. I would not say it has been an excessively wet spring BUT we did have a good storm this past weekend (it poured all night long on Sun) preceded by a few days of steady rain so the ground was saturated by the time the Sun storm arrived. We’re used to that, but it still causes flooding problems. Many municipal systems here can’t handle the heavy rains despite their frequency.

My primary concern would be the house. Is the sump pump new or in good working condition? The tenant or PM should be able to hear the pump working. If it’s running constantly have someone keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn out. I don’t know anything about grading, but the perfect squares holding water look like a problem. Perhaps talk to a landscaper to find out if there is a simple fix. Perhaps they could create a swale along the backs of your yards or put in a drainage system.

First though - Make sure your pump is working. If it’s old, rusty, or dies, put the money in for a good one. Not all houses need a strong pump, but you probably do. That is a lot of water and it will have to go somewhere in the next couple of days. You want to make sure your pump will do its job. 

I don't really know much about the subject (just want to get that out there) but I had a friend who had a similar thing happen to him. A couple of people suggested regrading the whole yard, very expensive and would have ruined his cash flow so he kept asking around. He asked a mutual friend who came over and looked at it and proposed a cheap, and easy solution. His problem, like your only occurred a few times a year.

What he did was dig out an area in the middle of the 4 or five worst area. He kind of tapered the ground leading into each one. Then he dug trenches out to the front yard/sidewalk area. I think he rented a "Ditch Witch" machine for all of this. He just created 4 "French drains" and it solved his problem for less than a few hundred bucks.

You might go to the forums on doityourself dot com and post it and do some research on French drains.

If it is affecting the house, you'd have to regrade the yard away from the house. If it's not affecting the house, there is no point in spending the money to try to fix it. My yard flooded like that when we get heavy rain so I dug a French drain. My neighbor has a drainage as well so I connected to his and it mostly solved the problem. I dont know if there could be repercussions for draining your yard into your neighbor's, so that is something to consider as well.

I am, unfortunately, all too familiar with flooding issues and the costs of remediation.  First question is where would the water go if it could go somewhere?  Is that your neighbor's back yard behind your property?  Is there a ditch somewhere?  You need to figure out how to get that water to flow somewhere away from your property.

It looks pretty flat back there. If you don't have an easy path to a ditch or storm drain you might be looking at installing a dry well to handle the rain so you don't just drain right onto your neighbor.
My partner had his neighbor resolve drainage issues - right into my partner's basement. When dealing with water think fully through it so you don't cause really expensive problems.

Thanks everyone for the insights.  It is always nice to know I am not the first (or last) to experience some of these problems!

@Andrew Kerr I had the feeling that taking my property manager's advice of going back to the seller may not be a real great option.  The legal costs and time investment to pursue this as well as finding a way to prove this was an ongoing issue was my worry as well.

@Michele G. I am in Madison Heights, and the complaint from the tenant came in on Tuesday morning this week, so that lines up perfectly with the storm you experienced.  I'll have to do some research to see if I can find some metrological data that helps to substantiate that this may have been a rare occurrence.  I'll check on the sump pump, but I am pretty sure it is not affecting the house.

@Frank Adams French drains sound like the easiest and most superficial way to go.  I was thinking about tiling as well, but that may be more cost and/or time.

Does anyone have any tips on how to handle this with a tenant?  They have asked about it twice, and if the result is a rare occurrence that I am not willing to spend big money on, what is the best way to communicate this to the tenant while trying to keep them happy enough to continue to maintain the house and keep them in the frame of mind to renew a lease in the future?  My first thought is honesty about the situation and that we will continue to monitor it.

Thanks everyone for the thoughts and posts!

From your picture, it looks like your backyard is the lowest point between your neighbors.  I'm with @Matt P. , if you regrade it would just flow to your neighbors yards.

Installing a couple of dry wells might be a good solution. Be careful connecting any drainage to the city's storm water system as it might be illegal. You have to check with your local jurisdiction. 

Going back to the seller is a waste of money and time. Use the money to resolve your issue instead. 

Have someone go out there with a transit and shoot the elevations to see if regrading will even work . It almost looks to me that the row of plants on the right hand side could be part of the problem . It would be ideal to have someone look when its full of water , they could then determine the outfall 

I would just put in a couple of drains and trench pipe to a popup valve near the road. It will cost a bit if you aren't in the area to do it yourself. I live in Madison Heights.. If you want, I can check with a friend of mine that is a plumber. It is a bit labor intensive, plus the cost of the machine rental and the rolls of pipe and fittings / drains.

As far as the tenant goes, it depends on if you plan to do anything about it or not. I would try to solve it for them so it's not a nagging issue.

French drains may or may not help.  That's a LOT of water, though its hard to tell the depth.  Unless your soil really percs well, a small french drain will simply fill up and you'll still have flooding.  Digging a french drain large enough to hold that amount of water while it percs (percolates into the ground) would be a big undertaking.

It does look like you have the low spot.  But its impossible to say from that picture.  Have you actually been there in person?  Is there a ditch somewhere around the property?  You really need to figure out a path for that water to go somewhere else.

I'm always skeptical when folks say "its an unusual weather event, don't worry about it".  Especially when someone say "that was a 100 year flood, it won't happen again for 100 years".  A completely misunderstanding and just plain wrong.  I'm more in the camp that these events are part of a trend and its safer to assume it will happen again.  I spent around $20K dealing with my drainage issues.

More questions. Was this a turnkey purchase?  Did you look at the property in person first?  Could well be this property had an ongoing drainage issue, perhaps caused by neighbors dealing with their issues (that was a factor for me, as for @John Negomir above).  If that's the case then going after the seller may be more of an option.  Still a long shot, IMHO.

We built a house in Houston (clay soil) on a acre of land.  The guy next to us had flooding.  He put in a pool,  took all that dirt plus dirt from two other pools,  and built up his yard...and then WE had flooding.  We sued but they said it was our builder's fault,  we had no photographic evidence because it didn't occur to us that someone would screw us over like that.  In the end the builder put in three French drains connecting to the sewer system for $1000.  That was 20 years ago.  We got our revenge,  though.  The owners were super lazy and would never treat for fire ants.  My husband would treat and leave an escape path for the ants...right into that guy's yard.

Based on the photo I am going to guess this is a pretty low value property (>$100K). I'd look to just getting the issue corrected as opposed to messing around with the seller. Maybe have your attorney shoot him a letter but it'd likely be more trouble than it's worth to travel down that path with the seller. Doesn't look like a ton of money is involved here. Often times the legal cost & fight aren't worth it in small money situations.

This probably isn't helpful, but I'm having a hard time understanding why the tenant even cares.  Assuming it only happens once in awhile and the puddles just dry up over a couple of days anyway.  Are they worried the house might flood?  Maybe explain why it won't?

My own backyard looks EXACTLY like that a few times a year.  Any time there is a heavy rain for at least 2 days straight.  And then the puddles dry up fairly quickly when the storms stop.  I realize people can have different priorities.  But, for me, it's not a big deal and doesn't impact my life at all.  As an aside, the backyard flooding doesn't worry me because this particular house is raised almost 3' off the ground.

If it is not affecting the structure, let it ride.

If the ground is close to being saturated before a rain, even a moderate rain can cause this.

Every soil has a limit on its capacity to absorb rain/water. Compare clay soils to sandy soils. Similar principle behind a “perk test” for a septic field.

As others have mentioned, don’t become a victim of the law of unintended consequences. You can only move water around, but you can’t make it go away. I second the vote on shooting some levels. You might even be able to get a free opinion from you local USDA NCRS (Soil Conservation Service) , or the building permit office about the possibility of moving the water to the city storm drain system if it proves to be a persistent problem.

I would also look around to see if someone else has recently done something to make the situation worse for your location.

@Michele G. Yes, a bit more flooding over the past few weeks. I asked my PM to get some quotes/ideas on how best to address the yard, and the maintenance group for the property management company indicated flooding has been a common problem with properties in SE Michigan this spring, and really questioned whether I really need to address it. It came back up last week in an inspection by the city to get my Landlord license for the property, so now we are waiting to hear back on what the city recommends/requires. So... more to come. I’ll  be sure to post how I finally take care of it. I did also follow up on your recommendation and the house itself is not being affected, and there is no sump pump in the house. 

Thanks for following up. It is nice to know there is support and guidance from the BP community! Also, I hope your properties are fairing ok with all the water!

It has been 4 months since I posted on this, and I think I am in a place where my yard flooding issue is tied up.  It certainly did not make for the best first rental experience, but I am persevering and just now getting back into a mindset where I would like to try another property.  For those that are interested, here is how my situation turned out.

From some of the suggestions posted above, I began to look at what my options were to best address the flooding issue.  I wanted to balance cost with a fix that would actually address the problem, and I wasn't convinced that just bringing up the grade would solve my problems.  In fact, I was concerned that this may actually result in other problems with neighbors getting water on their property.  Well, I obviously didn't act fast enough because my property management company's broker received a ticket from the city along with a request to appear in court.  This is a whole different headache I had to deal with that I won't get into here, but it is looking like they are charging me all the legal fees because I followed their guidance to keep looking for a solution, when in reality we were already in violation of the city's requirements.  Anyways, I digress.

With the pending ticket issue, I stepped up and took the lead instead of letting my property management company look for a solution.  Maybe I should have done this earlier to save me the anxious, but I quickly found that by getting involved stuff got done much quicker.  I started with a "survey" of the property that my father and father-in-law completed to get an idea of where our low spots were.  I also talked to a lot of people including the city engineer, an engineering firm, two plumbing companies,  some landscapers, and an attorney.  A few options I entertained to address the flooding included yard grading, a drain tile that could be run from the backyard across a neighbors property to tie into a city drain, and a culvert in the back yard that could be tied into my property's combined sewer system.  While I was leaning toward the drain solution, this became pretty involved and did not create a very quick or cheap fix.  

My final decision was to go back to the very first idea and start with some grading.  The rational I used to make this decision was 1) I would most likely need to do some grading with any of the other options I was looking at, 2) it was the most cost effective option, 3) I found someone that was relatively confident they could do the work with the intended result by contouring the yard in a way that would direct water back to the driveway and out to the street and not onto neighbor's yards, and 4) the city stated this was all they would need to mark that finding as complete in their files and issue my landlord license.

So how did it work?  Well, I have obviously not been through a spring thaw yet, but there have been some big rains in the last few weeks and there has been no water accumulation in my yard or neighbors yard.  So time will tell, but I am hoping this issue is put to bed.