Help me prepare to talk to a real estate lawyer.
April 16, 2013 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I will be seeking a consultation with a real estate lawyer to talk about an issue with my property line which is the side of my house. Unfortunately there is a negative gradient and a lot of water coming onto my property (and into my basement) from the adjoining property. I have an easement for "ingress & egress" on that property. The landowner there has not responded to my repeated requests to correct the negative gradient.

In the 1940s, a previous landowner on that side actually sold the then owners of my house the land under my chimney, which was originally on their land. The foundation wall on that side of my house has been replaced in the past, likely due to hydrostatic pressure against that wall.

My ideal solution would be to purchase the strip of land between my house and the easement (2.5'), but my immediate concern is finding a way to correct the negative gradient and stop (some of) the water infiltration.

I live in Maryland, and would like to speak intelligently about this to whatever lawyer (feel free to recommend one) I end up consulting.
posted by OmieWise to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Response by poster: Just to be a bit more clear: I'm looking for solutions that allow me to negotiate a solution. Either an exchange of money, for instance, or an assurance of some sort that correcting the negative gradient does not constitute adverse possession (I'm not actually sure what this means, but you get the idea.) I'm not looking to, nor do I think it is possible to, hold my neighbor accountable for the groundwater runoff.
posted by OmieWise at 8:55 AM on April 16, 2013

Why are you worried about speaking intelligently to someone that you've hired for their expert opinion.

Just tell the attorney what you've said here. Let the guy you're paying give you the advice you need.

Bring as much information as you have, tell him what you know, and let him take it from there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny is right. The reason you are hiring a lawyer in the first place is to answer the questions you're posing here, and the lawyer will do a better job of it than AskMe.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:58 AM on April 16, 2013


You don't need to worry about speaking intelligently, although I am sure that you will. The best way to prepare is to have all of the facts that are relevant to the discussion at your command. The facts and law are what is going to inform the lawyer's advice to you. He will know the law, but you need to supply the facts. You don't need documentation for every fact (at least at the initial meeting), you just need to know it so you can discuss it. And, "I don't know, but I can find out" is a perfectly acceptable answer to any question you might be asked.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you may want to first talk to an surveyor/engineer. Without knowing the best way to fix the problem, it will be hard to know what kind of real estate issues you will need to resolve. If you already have an ingress easement you don't need any special permission for the engineers to make a survey of that area. The surveyor will also be able to advise you about the best additional easement to get to do the work. You may not need anything if you have enough room to run a drain tile on the edge of your property and connect it to a drain field on your property.
posted by JJ86 at 9:10 AM on April 16, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks. I am not actually worried or anxious about this consult, I know how to hire and work an expert. I just want to be as prepared as possible.
posted by OmieWise at 9:31 AM on April 16, 2013

Yeah, I'd talk to a surveyor/engineer, have them propose a solution for you. Then go to a lawyer, explain everything you said in your post, and then say to the lawyer, "I hired an engineer to look at this, and this is what he suggested. Can we make this work?"
posted by dfriedman at 9:55 AM on April 16, 2013

I would go past arguing that you don't need to be prepared, to instead say you don't want to be prepared. Go in to your consultation with a completely open mind, instead of some half-baked ideas you got from the internet. Once you've had your consultation (and taken notes!) you'll know a lot more than if you spend half the meeting hearing him say "well, no, that idea isn't correct either..." over and over.
posted by davejay at 9:57 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Plugging in "water flow house foundation" into a search engine will give you excellent beginning information.
posted by yclipse at 10:40 AM on April 16, 2013

but my immediate concern is finding a way to correct the negative gradient and stop (some of) the water infiltration.

Have you looked into French drains along this side of the house?
posted by lstanley at 11:38 AM on April 16, 2013

Best answer: Take some photos of the area with you to the consultation. I imagine the real estate lawyer will be interested in surveyors' stakes and such, as well as easement documentation. They will tell you what other stuff they require.

It seems to me that a contractor's advice on how to deal with drainage would be appropriate. I would ask for more than one opinion. Once the property line and such is established, you may have several interesting options.

A French drain, mentioned above, can have many forms--its main value is that it ties (underground) into a formal drainage system. For only one example, you can construct a shallow ditch with a gravel surface several inches deep, and decorate it with drip-fed planter boxes. I use a "dry creek" effect in my back yard to do much the same thing. The gravel bed leads to a drain that ties into the city drains. I've lined it with decorative rocks and plants.
posted by mule98J at 12:33 PM on April 16, 2013

IANAL but have seen this for work before. I totally agree with what is said above along with the caveat - documentation. It helps a lot. Document when the basement leaks (and the weather for that day) - take as many pictures as you can to show the gradient as well any cracks etc.. from the pressure. The engineer will do this as well, but it never hurts to have too much info. Ask if your atty has his/her own team of experts or wants you hire your own.
posted by lasamana at 1:21 PM on April 16, 2013

Best answer: A french drain is a surface drainage system rather than subsurface. If you have ground pressure pushing on a basement wall you most likely have subsurface water problems. This is better solved with underground drain tiles and plenty of stone above the tiles to relieve that ground pressure. An engineer should be able to determine which solution better fits your problem. If the problem is constant and the soil never dries then the second solution is better. Soil tests and a surface drainage analysis can provide an engineer with all the data to design the proper solution.
posted by JJ86 at 8:39 PM on April 16, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. Those that suggested ways to actually make the best of the meeting were particularly helpful.

you'll know a lot more than if you spend half the meeting hearing him say "well, no, that idea isn't correct either..." over and over.

I have no idea, given what I wrote, why you'd think I'm trying to figure out how to act like an asshole. As I said above, I know how to hire and work with an expert. Indeed, I am hired as an expert consultant in other contexts. I do appreciate the reminder to enter all such meetings with an open mind.
posted by OmieWise at 5:18 AM on April 17, 2013

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