Can You Sue Your Neighbor for Water Damage?

Feuds between neighbors can occur from many things, including property damage from overflowing water. However, resolving such neighborly feuds caused by water runoff depends on whether the runoff was artificial or natural. Generally, your neighbor won’t be liable for property damage caused by water flowing on naturally occurring land or natural drainage conditions.

Therefore, if your land and property are downhill and water flows naturally from an upper position, you can’t sue your neighbor for property damage. Instead, you should take several measures to deal with disastrous drainage. However, if property damage results from careless actions of your neighbor, such as modifying the landscape to divert water into your property, you should claim compensation for the damages caused.

Legal Theories that Guide Surface Water Damage Disputes

State laws guide legal disputes resulting from surface water damage, and each state has unique laws. Therefore, you should determine which laws apply to your state before seeking legal redress. Most states have the following three laws that apply in such situations;

The Reasonable Use Law

The Reasonable Use Rule is applicable in most U.S states. It states that neighbors who alter the general landscape and drainage of their lands, causing property damage, should be held liable for the water damage if the changes were unreasonable. Therefore, if you sue a neighbor over property damage, you will have to prove to the court that the neighbor made unreasonable changes that contributed to causing the harm.

That said, the court decides if the actions were reasonable or not depending on the case. This means that these actions are unique to each specific case. For instance, the court may find installing downspouts and gutters channeling water into the neighbors’ property unreasonable in some situations. The court considers the following factors to determine the reasonability of every action;

  1. The importance and nature of improvements made.
  2. Whether the impending damage was foreseeable or not
  3. The impact of the damage vs. the benefits of improvements

The Common Enemy Rule

This law treats rainwater and other natural water sources as a common enemy. Therefore, land and property owners take the necessary steps to prevent their land and protect their property from runoff water without necessarily considering how their actions can affect the neighboring properties. The law rides on the gist that property owners are responsible for their property alone.

However, several states, including the District of Columbia, California, New York, and Montana, have modified the Common Enemy rule. For instance, the California Supreme Court changed the rule by ruling that the reasonableness of individual actions or conduct should be evaluated using the law of negligence. According to the law of negligence, everybody has a duty of reasonable care to avoid causing harm or injury to others.

A person who doesn’t exercise reasonable care, such as intentionally altering the landscape to direct water into their neighbors’ property, should be held liable, even if the affected property owner should take reasonable precautions as per the common enemy rule.

The Civil Law Rule

Several states follow the Civil Law Rule, which directly contrasts with the Common Enemy rule. This law states that any person altering the natural flow of water sufficient enough to cause harm to another person’s property should be held liable for the damage.

Again, this differs from the common enemy rule, which requires property owners to care for their property. However, like the preceding law, some states have changed this law, with most requiring both property owners to act with reasonable care.

Water Damage Due to Carelessness

You can sue your neighbor for property damage caused by their careless actions. In addition, you can claim compensation for property damage resulting from your neighbors’ negligent or unreasonable actions with water in their property. The court can also intervene to stop your neighbor’s careless actions.

Common causes of careless water damage include clogged or leaking water pipes and unattended sprinklers or garden hoses. Homeowners should be responsible for their property and the damage they cause.

Which Damages Can Be Claimed?

You should be awarded some compensation for successfully suing your neighbor for water damage to your property. You should defend your case by proving the extent of property damage suffered and the cost of repairing or restoring your property to its prior condition. The court can award compensation for the following damages;

  • The cost of repairing or replacing items – it is best to hire restoration experts to repair or renovate your home after water damage.
  • Loss of use – awarded if water damage to property made it inhabitable. This covers the cost of renting a hotel until the house is repaired. It also compensates for the lost income for commercial properties.
  • Medical expenses – awarded if the water damage led to physical injuries or emotional distress.
  • Lost wages – awarded alongside medical expenses to compensate the injured person for lost wages or salaries during the recovery period.
  • Punitive damages – this is awarded to punish defendants for their unreasonable actions. Though not common in most water dispute cases, the court can award if it determines that the persona acted with negligence and the impact or consequences of their actions were foreseeable.

Tips for Preventing Water Damage Disputes

While water damage disputes can sometimes be inevitable, there are several proactive measures you can take to prevent such situations:

  1. Understand the drainage system: Always familiarize yourself with your land’s natural drainage pattern and neighborhood. This understanding can help prevent unnecessary alterations leading to water damage disputes.
  2. Regular maintenance: Conduct regular inspections and maintenance of your drainage systems, gutters, and pipes to prevent leaks that could cause water damage to neighboring properties.
  3. Professional consultation: Before making significant changes to your landscape or drainage system, consult a professional. They can provide valuable advice on the best practices to ensure your changes won’t result in water damage to your own or your neighbors’ properties.
  4. Open communication: Maintain an open line of communication with your neighbors, particularly when planning changes that could affect drainage. Early discussion can prevent misunderstandings and disputes.
  5. Follow laws and guidelines: Always adhere to state laws and local guidelines regarding water drainage. If unsure, consult with a legal professional to understand your rights and obligations.


Apart from boundaries demarcating homeownership, neighbors can also find themselves in court for water damage cases. The court relies on the above guiding rules to decide and award compensation to the affected property owner. Therefore, you shouldn’t hesitate to sue your neighbor for water damage to your property.