Landslide 6 months after first home purchase...
April 19, 2008 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What is a young couple supposed to do when 6 months after purchasing their first home a landslide occurs in their back yard?

Landslide is increasing in severity each day. Neighbors have lost sheds, porches, and complete back yards already. Only a matter of time until it affects our house's foundation.

Insurance doesn't cover land movement, city says its a private property issue. Estimates to fix problem for a retaining wall exceed $40, 000. Can''t put house on market with backyard sliding off hill, can't afford to fix it, no help from city or insurance. Can't sue previous owner bc all neighbors claim there was never previous signs that indicated land instability.

What the hell are we supposed to do? How do you financially recover from a situation as devastating as this in the beginning of a marriage?
posted by slowtree to Law & Government (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Insurance doesn't cover land movement

That's a little shocking, actually. I'd double check.

city says its a private property issue.

I'd double-check that, too. Sounds like an out-of-hand cop-out.

Estimates to fix problem for a retaining wall exceed $40, 000.

What about fixing drainage issues or attempting soil remediation instead of retaining wall?

can't afford to fix it

Possible to refinance home loan?

Can't sue previous owner bc all neighbors claim there was never previous signs that indicated land instability.

"All neighbors claim" doesn't hold any legal water. Besides, before the home was built, there had to have been a geologic survey of the area. If this is a newer house, the builder could be on the hook. Talk to an experienced real estate attorney.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:08 PM on April 19, 2008

If you get together with several of the affected neighbors to get a single bid would the cost per house of the retaining wall go down? You may be able to get it down to 20K, 15K or something even lower with some negotiation if you have a bigger project to bid out.

Get a helpful newscaster involved?

Seconded talk to an experienced real estate attorney.
posted by true at 6:19 PM on April 19, 2008

I'm sorry to tell you this, since it's a standard answer, but you really need to talk to a lawyer. Land law and insurance law varies from state to state; you haven't mentioned where you are. Only a lawyer can really answer this question.

See if you can find out what your neighbors are doing about it. The situation might be more hopeful, relief-wise, if it's a large-scale problem.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:22 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

we are in northern kentucky.

we have double checked about the insurance and have done exhaustive research. insurance companies write specific clauses to avoid liability in land movement.

we attended a city council meeting with several neighbors where the mayor told us himself that it is a private property issue.

the house is 60 years old. from what i understand there is a 10 year statute of limitations on builder's liability.
posted by slowtree at 7:37 PM on April 19, 2008

and our neighbors are waiting around on us to figure out what to do. they are all older with limited resources. we have already spent thousand dollars on structural engineers, geological engineers etc.
posted by slowtree at 7:46 PM on April 19, 2008

I seem to recall a series of landslides in a residential neighborhood in California a few years ago where the whole neighborhood was declared a State Disaster Area and made them eligible to receive Emergency Funds. That was a little different because some of the houses were completely destroyed, and it was a different state, but it may be worth checking with some state agencies to see if there is anything they could do. I might even try an inquiry to FEMA. It appears Kentucky had some county's declared disaster areas this year due to tornado's and flooding. If nothing else they may redirect you to another agency, or tell you what steps you may need to take.

Another thought is if the city took actions that put your neighborhood in jeopardy, they may be at least partially liable to repair the damage. For example, if they diverted water from Area A to Area B so Area A would not flood, and Area B does not flood but suddenly starts having landslides, the city may be more willing to help Area B. This is a longshot since it would be hard to prove what actions may have caused the landslide, or that those actions were deliberate.

Good luck!
posted by Yorrick at 9:04 PM on April 19, 2008

This happened here in the Vancouver, BC area. It was declared a disaster area. The people in the area got together and sued the province and (I can't remember exactly) the city or region. You should talk to a lawyer...they may be able to assemble a class action suit. Call your law society to get a free consultation.
posted by acoutu at 9:11 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

escalate the apeals for help. Give your county comissioners a call, call your Congressmen and there is no hurt in calling your senators. Thier job is to help out the constituents. They may be able to streamline the process of declaring a disaster area and getting relief money. At the very least thier offices might be able to steer you in the right direction of someone who could help. You pay taxes, you might as well see what those dollars can do for you.

Good luck!
posted by prk14 at 10:37 PM on April 19, 2008

If you have 60 year old property that suddenly starts to slide, I would suspect that something has happened above you to change the water flow which is saturating the earth. It could be a new development or a leaking underground sewer or water main. I might be worth getting a geologic engineer to take a look. If you can prove damages, a lawyer is your next step.
posted by JackFlash at 12:21 AM on April 20, 2008

The inspection we had done when we bought our house carried a warranty. Did yours? Any chance this might be covered?
posted by daisyace at 6:11 AM on April 20, 2008

You really ought to talk to a lawyer. Simply having the mayor tell you something doesn't actually mean anything. You and your neighbors need to get legal help quickly.
posted by odinsdream at 7:07 AM on April 20, 2008

I also highly recommend calling the office of your rep. in Congress. If they're not able to do anything themselves, they can definitely point you in the right direction, make necessary contacts for you, etc. That's one of the things they're there for.
posted by frobozz at 7:12 AM on April 20, 2008

The allocation of FEMA and related funds is totally lopsided and has a lot to do with how likely the affected people are to vote (if you ever want a lesson in US-style emergency policy, read up on the firestorm in Oakland/Berkeley in 1991 - afterwards the rich white folks who lived up on the hills got gobs of federal aid and insurance companies built them new homes that were even bigger than their old homes. The poor non-white folks downhill in Oakland got jack).

So the apparent solution here is to band together with your neighbors and make it clear that you're aware this is an election year. The louder and more organized you are, the more attention you're going to get from folks who can actually get you the help you need.
posted by drmarcj at 8:49 AM on April 20, 2008

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