Neighbors water lines goes across our yard, no easement.

20 Replies

Hello all! We just finished rehabbing this property and the back neighbor comes out to tell us that his water lines go across our yard. He is claiming a leak and needing repairs. There is no easement or legal documentation in the deed. The neighbor says he made a friendly agreement with the elderly lady that we bought the house from some 30 years ago! The neighbor cannot even remember where his lines are. I am under the impression that because there is nothing in writing, we don’t have to give permission? Could his water be “grandfathered” in? He is making some claim to that effect. I contacted our attorney and apparently the neighbors attorney is getting involved. Is this worth retaining our attorney for? Or come to agreement outside? The neighbor has yet to even confirm that his lines are there.... he does not remember the path. We built an addition on that side of lot and never came across water lines. We told them to ask the other neighbors for access, which Im assuming they said no. We would prefer no lines on our property as it deters buyers and even with an easement it is less attractive. Or charge a larger amount for easement(?) Anyone familiar with this situation? Any advice? What rights do I have? What rights does the neighbor have? We bought this property on the mls with a realtor and nothing was in disclosures, nothing in deed. Ps- Our property is on the market! Another reason we don’t want him digging up our yard. There have been other issues with this neighbor, ....they are very emotional driven! Help!

Turn this over to your lawyer and let them handle it. I would not get involved with the neighbour if they are "emotional". Emotional usually equates to crazy.

If you can work with them fine otherwise stay out of it.

I am only licensed in Texas, but the neighbor might have an unrecorded easement.

It depends on the circumstances.  If it has been there 30 years, there is a form of adverse possession for easements.  If that is the only way to his property for the line, it might be a valid easement.

Listen to your local lawyer, but the easiest route may be to make an official, recorded easement of what is than to fight it.  At most, you might have the neighbor relocate the line closer to the edge of the property.

I have been on both ends of this. Each at a different set of properties and unrelated to one another. 

On the first I found the neighbor's sewer line on my property along with a different neighbor's fence. The sewer line was likely in place since the 1920's. The fence since the 1950's. Both were in the way of a new house being built.

The other time it was my electrical service lines (in the air) and gas line were both crossing the neighbors' property. They were in the way of him building a new house.

And still another time I had a neighbor's electrical service lines running in the air across my property and I had no ability to force her to move it (instead I paid for underground conduit to be installed and eventually they were moved underground). 

You need to retain your attorney and understand prescriptive easements and adverse possession rights.

Get a lawyer. Does he have any other path to get water to the house. I can tell you from experience sometimes it can be cheaper to run a new line then look for the old one. Maybe it under your addtion.

@Jerel Ehlert

Thank you for your professional advice, I really appreciate it!  As far as an adverse possession that you speak of, does that only come into play if that is the only way to get water to his property? There are multiple ways for him to get water, he has a 2.5acre lot bordering 2 other city owned streets (my lot is only .24). I checked with the city water and there is city water running along those other streets. He could also run it along his own driveway to the street...or the 3 other neighbors yards (as he seems to prefer to dig up someone else yard vs his). Also our lot was once a larger lot subdivided a few years ago, because he cant remember where it was installed....technically today it could be on the neighbors lot. He has done nothing to confirm/locate the lines only complain. Sorry for the long post/rant....I do appreciate your feedback! thanks!

@Colleen F.

I completely agree with you and have proposed to him that running new lines is easier, and probably cheaper. He has multiple ways to get water to his house and this is my argument. Why would you want your water line on someone else's land? Especially with no written agreement. Ive talk with our lawyer, and we shall see how we proceed. He has had " 30 years of no problems", that sounds like a fantastic situation to me, no plumbing issues for 30 years!

@Doug W.

Sounds like you have been through this before! How did the cards fall in the new build? Were you able to work it out and build? The electrical lines in the air is an eye opener to me....thanks! I will now be paying more attention to that factor.  I personally would prefer underground electrical anyways, was that a large expense for you? Thank you for your feedback!

I am in the exact situation now and would really like to know how it turned out. Mine is a little worse bc they want us to pay for 15000$ of pipe repairs from the shared pipe they use on our land and then want an easement to move it to a different spot to get to their own city sewer spot and not use ours. To get there from their place is more expensive since they have to go through their basement vs our yard but if they are refusing to help with cost now I do t want to be responsible for their line anyplace on our property. 
would love to find out what you learned. 

@Colleen F. I think they can run to their own stub on the street and I think the city has to be available for them and there is already one there. They are using ours bc they never had their own there prior to the city updating but they would have a waaay harder time to do it, either use a pump to go uphill or I think the city would have to move the main water line in the whole street to get them access unless we allow them a new easement. I felt bad at first it would be hard for them until they said they wanted me to be responsible for allll the cost of our shared line after their poo filled our basement and the repairs and upkeep was on us.Now I don’t care. I just want them to use their own property if possible.

I am sorry to say you may need a lawyer. If there is no written easement and your line is damaged  you can certainly repair your line.  Where they connect is the issue. If you have older pipe and you replace it the city may not let them connect old pipe to your new.  And I would think regardless of easement they are responsible at the property line.  Normally there is a maintenances agreement for shared lines. An ejection pump is usually an option if you are downhill from the sewer.  It is more pricey but  can be done. 

Thanks Colleen. I’m definitely going to need a lawyer which is a bummer since we could have spent whatever money on that actually working on the problem and after reading the law she will probably end up having to pay  more than we asked for in the beginning. I was trying to be a nice reasonable neighbor.

Originally posted by @Tamara R. :

Thanks Colleen. I’m definitely going to need a lawyer which is a bummer since we could have spent whatever money on that actually working on the problem and after reading the law she will probably end up having to pay  more than we asked for in the beginning. I was trying to be a nice reasonable neighbor.

 Why can't they go from the road to their house directly?  If they end up running a line through your property, you should have control over where it goes and you could get them to run a separate line for you at the same time (if needed).  Why on earth should you have to pay for their line? (I might have missed something)

@Theresa Harris exactly. I think she is thinking that since the insurance stated they only pay for what’s in her property maybe. Not sure why she thinks we’re responsible for the whole thing. They may have to use some sort of pump if they go through their property and it would be really expensive to tear up their basement so I think they are trying to take the cheapest way. Our whole basement is torn up now just for our part but would be more tearing for their part and I’m not sure the city would allow them to hook back into a shared line anyways. It’s also very expensive for them to fix their part of the line going to our place and I think they are using the prescriptive easement they say they have to still be on our property and not have the hassle of theirs. Also to go direct to their stub put there by the city it runs across a water main. If they don’t put in a pump the city would have to tear out the entire street. It would just be way easier and cheaper for them to keep using our property. At first it would be a bummer for us to keep it but was willing to for good neighbor sake but after they said they weren’t paying for any repair or cleanup from their clog I don’t want that kind of irresponsible neighbor anyplace on ours. So probably to court we go. They may have been skipping giving us a written up document to change it and doing it that day as a sneak tactic then just say it was already there. Idk??

@Tamara R.   I'd talk to the city, so you really know what is happening.  There is no way they can require you to rip up more of your basement to accommodate them let alone you pay for it.  The part that is shared from the city to your house, is used by both, so you should each to 50% of the costs.  Once the line ends and become the lone only going to their house, they are 100% responsible for that part....best to have two separate lines.  If it does have to go through your property-make sure they have a separate line-nothing is shared to prevent a repeat where their sewer backed up in your basement and they pay 100% for their line and you pay 100% for yours-more expensive, but better in the long run-and you hopefully get control of where it goes as they should twin the two lines (two pipes next to each other) to reduce digging.

@Allison Ezzi . Working on my easement issue. Maybe he is saying that so you are aware of it so some point he may say he has a prescriptive easement and you didn’t stop him from using it? I thought it had to be for a certain amount of time after you knew and still let him use it then it becomes ok for him to use it legally? Idk just thought maybe that’s what he is thinking.

Hi @Tamara R.

In your instance a few points. Take them for what they are worth, they are just my random thoughts. Not a lawyer although in this instance I do suggest you get one and sooner rather than later.

1) Someone can't just declare "I have a prescriptive easement" and it is so. They still have to go to go through the steps (Which is why they wanted you to sign something).

2) How much their insurance pays is irrelevant. It doesn't mean now you are on the hook because their policy won't. It is simply something that isn't covered. Does not mean they are in the clear and you get the bill. 

3) Their desire to move it somewhere else on your land is 100% something that they can't just decree. Much less demand you pay for it.

4) If septics are allowed in that area, it may very well be an option for them. Won;t be at your cost, but there are options for them. Through their own yard, through their basement etc. How do you get stuck paying for their problem because it;s easier for them?

5) Now that you do know about the pipe you should do something and soon.

Just my thoughts and good luck

Oh wow, this brings back memories:) Neighbors.... the second hardest part of rehabbing properties, behind contractors! 

Yes, your situation sounds tricky with it being shared sewer lines! I would defiantly get a lawyer involved to at least get some questions answered and run an extra search for any possible written easement.  Do they have a lawyer involved... or is this info all related through a "conversation in the back yard."  

What are your plans for the property? Is this a flip? or a rental? or primary? I think that should play a role in the way to handle it. For instance- for us, being a flip...time costs additional money, so I weighed that factor (dragging things through court would cost me even more money).  If it was my property to hold for a longer period of time, I might have gone about it differently.

We ended up giving them two options. 1- they can run a new water line on their own land and not deal with us at all, or 2- they can run a new line on our property but in new said location and with a strict easement agreement. In the end they went with a new line and easement on our land. Personally,  I don't understand why people would even entertain the idea of running their lines through someone else's land unless it truly was the only way, but they did!

With that, we made sure they paid for all related expenses....the cost to run new line, the repairs to our yard/ new landscaping, our attorney fees, and an extra fee for an easement.... and a deadline for said work to be completed. We had a very clear easement written with a solid maintenance agreement. In the maintenance agreement, they were responsible for paying for any future repairs not only to their physical water line, but also for any damages to our property, regardless of what/who caused the damage. We felt that this would give a future owner some peace of mind. If the new owners wanted to build a 10k patio on it, the neighbor would have to pay to get it fixed if any future leaks /issues occurred.

Being a  sewer line ( vs water line), that may be very different though! Older sewer systems were often shared in many ways without easements.  I agree with Teresa, talk with the city sewer department. Talk with a lawyer... tell them to have their lawyer talk to your lawyer ( sometimes that calms them down or opens them up to be more rational...?) Getting a separate line even if on your property would be better and defiantly get a strong written agreement to avoid this in the future.

I hope my response is helpful to some degree. I know it is a stressful situation! Do what you need to in order to protect your investment the best way you can. Good luck.

Easy solution, if his line is leaking he will have to dig it up. Why not just a run a new line in the proper place to avoid digging up the old in your yard? Or is there no access from the street to his property?

If there is no easement, then he has no grounds to stand on. If there is and the title company missed it, and you got title insurance. You can sue the title insurance company.