Water is an essential substance for life, but it can also be destructive to property. Water runoff is an issue many people face, and it can come from the unfortunate positioning of a house that is at the bottom of a hill or slope. But what can you do about it? You can’t exactly terraform and get rid of the hill to suit your needs.

Depending on the cause of water runoff, you can either sue for damages, do a DIY or perhaps create a contractor solution—such as building a drainage system or a water wall. For most water woes, a drainage system is going to be the best solution to water runoff.

In this article, we will be going over how you can protect your property from water runoff. If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to read on!

What Is Water Runoff?

Water runoff is when water “rolls” down a hill or slope. This can be very destructive, causing flooding that can damage plants or anything else in the way.

How much water makes its way from one area to another is dependant on:

  • Rainfall
  • Slope
  • Elevation
  • Soil

A particularly destructive example of water runoff would be if a patch of land “collects” rainwater forming a puddle that overspills down a hill onto the property below. From this alone, the person on the lower land can potentially face thousands of dollars worth of damages depending on what the water has destroyed.

What Can You Do About Water Runoff Legally?

Let’s say you have spent years growing the perfect garden on your property. New neighbors move into a house that sits slightly above yours on a slope. Due to the way the land is shaped, you haven’t had problems with large amounts of water flowing down onto your land. However, the neighbors do some landscaping that causes water to build upon their property and flow down into your own.

Your garden faces complete or partial damages, and you are now out of not only the time you’ve spent creating your garden but also the money you’ve put into it. Similarly, they could have installed sprinklers, neglected cleaning their gutters, broken water hose, or a number of other examples where a neighbor can be considered neglectful or careless.

If you know that the flooding is being caused by a neighbor’s actions, you can ask for compensation. However, you cannot press charges if the land naturally sits in such a way that water runoffs just happen.

Generally, it is best to just talk with your neighbor about the issue. It isn’t directly their fault in most cases, and both of you can potentially work something out.

Legal Advice

If you are sure that water damages are at the fault of the neighbor, you may sue for the damages. It’s not as easy as accusing someone of a payday. However, you will have to prove that the water damages were directly caused by the neighbor’s actions, which can be tricky in certain circumstances.

For example, if you notice that there has been an increase of water flow into your property from rain runoff, but you don’t notice any landscaping that has been done, then it is going to be close to impossible to win a case like this, whether the neighbor did or didn’t alter anything on their land.

Who wins a legal battle in such a case is going to be up to the court. A judge is going to work off of what is known as the “reasonableness rule” meaning, that the party that wants to be awarded needs a proper reason for their case. Here are two examples of what would be reasonable and unreasonable:

  • Reasonable – Your neighbor has installed sprinklers near the slope, causing flooding to your property. This would likely be considered a reasonable case because the neighbor actively installed something that is causing damage to another person’s property.
  • Unreasonable – The way your neighbor’s drainage is set up causes water runoff into your property. You might be thinking that this would fall into “reasonable,” and sometimes it would. But the more likely outcome in this situation is that the neighbor wouldn’t be considered at fault since the home was built the way it was when they moved in. This would have happened even without anyone living there.

With this in mind, it is important to consider if you will be able to win your case. Otherwise, you might waste money and time going through with a lawsuit you won’t win. If it is indeed not the neighbor’s fault, you’ll have to take preventative measures to ensure that your property is protected from water damage.

Digging a trench to divert water runoff from neighbors yard.

Effective Ways to Stop Water Runoff From Neighbor’s Yard

Preventing water runoff from flooding your property might be easier than you think. You essentially have to either direct the water into a different area or stop it entirely. Below we have composed different methods for dealing with water runoff:

1. Dig a Trench

Assuming you own your property and can do landscaping, digging a trench is a simple and effective option if the amount of water running down isn’t too much.

The first thing you are going to want to do is to use a drainage spade. This is a special type of shovel with a narrow head and is made for digging trenches. The long head allows it to go deep into the ground to dig up earth soil efficiently.

While you technically can dig a trench using a normal shovel, it’s going to be more difficult and time-consuming, and if you aren’t used to this sort of activity, you are going to wear yourself out fast. This Nupla Power Sharp Shooters Drain Spade will get the job done and isn’t too expensive.

You might also want to think about using a pickaxe to loosen hard soil. This will also make your digging faster and smoother. You don’t need an extremely fancy pickaxe for this job; this WilFiks Pick Axe will work great for this purpose.

Alternatively, you can use an edger to cut the soil you’ll be digging up. This will eliminate the need to use the shovel for this purpose, making the digging process straightforward. Both the pickaxe and edger method will work—it will just be up to you which one sounds preferable.

Break the Soil

Once you are ready to begin, pick the spot and decide on the length of the trench appropriate to the water runoff you are receiving. Use your pickaxe to thoroughly break up the soil making sure that you are hitting deep enough for the digging phase.


Once you are ready to start digging, start at one side and scoop up land working backward. We suggest using a tarp to throw the leftover dirt on. This will make the cleanup process easier. If you are struggling to lift the soil up, you can break up the soil more with a pickaxe. Remember, both the breaking and digging are going to require some amount of force.

If you’d like a visual demonstration of how you should dig, we suggest checking out this short video:

As you can see in the video, he is digging quite efficiently. You also may have noticed that he is installing a drain, which is the next thing we will be getting into.

2. Install a French Drainage System

If you have quite a bit of water rolling into your property, you may want to install a french drainage system to direct the water safely away from your property. When using this method, ensure that you are not directing the water into the neighboring property.

This method requires more tools and understanding than simply digging a trench and so if you are not comfortable doing this yourself, don’t be afraid to hire a contractor to install it for you.

Dig a Trench

Same as above, you’ll be digging a trench using the same method. The difference here is that you’ll have to dig based on where you want the water to go. This step is crucial because you do not want to direct the water someplace where it can damage your own or your neighbor’s property. If you are struggling to figure out how you can direct the water flow safety, again, don’t be afraid to hire a contractor or at least ask for advice.

The trench should slope downwards to ensure the water is able to move. A good rule of thumb to follow is that it should slope at least 1 in (2.54 cm) for every 10 feet (3 m).

Lastly, check for underground pipes and utility lines before digging.

Line With Filter Fabric

Filter fabric helps to keep dirt and debris out of the pipes. Alternatively, you can skip this step and buy pipes that are pre-fabricated.

If you are installing the fabric manually, leave 10 in (25.4 cm) of excess fabric on the sides.

Gravel Bedding

As the name implies, gravel will act as bedding for the pipes. This will further keep dirt and debris away and will help hold the pipes in place. Most importantly, this will allow water that is running over/falling onto the gravel to be directed to the desired location (more on that below). 

3 in (7.62 cm) of gravel should do the trick, and the size of said gravel is important here. You’ll want gravel rocks that are no more than 1.5 in (3.81 cm) so that you can easily spread it around.

You can skip the gravel if you have opted to buy pipes that are pre-fabricated. If you don’t want to deal with purchasing a bunch of gravel, we recommend buying those pipes—it will save you time and space.

Next, install the inlet gate. This is where the water will enter. Install the grate where water is pooling.

Lay the Pipes Down

Start laying the pipes down along the trench. Although this might sound counter-intuitive, the holes/slits should face downwards. This is what makes a french drain do its magic. Water collects through the gravel and into the soil, which then flows up from below, allowing the system to work efficiently.

After you have finished connecting your pipes, test your system by pouring water down the inlet. If all is working well, cover the pipes with gravel.

This video showcases what the process looks like. If you are considering installing a french drain, don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

3. Hire a Professional Landscaper or Hardscaper

If you are opting to hire a landscaper to install a drainage system or a wall, there are things you should know, such as how to find a good contractor and how much you might be paying for the service.

Finding a contractor is as easy as Googling what your problem is, but there are multiple ways you can go about it, such as:

  • Should you hire a professional or residential contractor?
  • Is there any guarantee for quality work?
  • Is free consultation offered?
  • Do they have a good track record for the service you are seeking?
  • How much do they charge? And are you paying hourly or when the project is complete?

You should also be aware of the laws a contractor must follow to avoid falling into a sketchy trap.

  • Payments. A contractor may and should not ask for money before signing a contract. If you find that your potential contractor is doing this, then something is very off. This law is put in place to protect clients. Furthermore, you should read the contract before signing to ensure you agree with their terms. Generally, we recommend not to pay upfront at all.
  • Deviating from the contract. This falls into why it is a good idea to read the contract before signing. The entire point of a written agreement is that either party can’t deviate from it.
  • You can cancel your contract. If you feel that things aren’t going right, you have three business days to cancel the contract after signing it. This is another law put in place to protect clients and is especially helpful when working with a contractor who isn’t following the agreements.
  • They can’t charge more than you expect. A contract is enforceable when the contractor signs it and includes the total quoted price (link). Keep in mind that if they have to estimate for time and materials, that estimate isn’t set in stone legally, and you might pay higher than you expect. We recommend getting a final quote if you can help it for this reason.
  • They must display their registration number. Whether it’s an advertisement, estimate, proposal, or contract, their registration number must be displayed. This shows they are licensed and are allowed to do the work they do.
  • They must register with the Bureau of Consumer Protection. The BCP is what the name implies; it protects consumers against unfair and fraudulent business practices.

You probably guessed that the general theme here is to go with a contractor that can be trusted. The easiest way to ensure you are picking the right one is to simply look at real feedback from people who have used their services.

When hiring a contractor, there are many options on how to go about protecting your property from water runoff without lifting a finger. You could opt to have a drainage system professionally installed, or you could look into other options that involve hardscaping.

4. Consider a Water Retaining Wall

A well-built retaining wall can be a highly effective solution against water damage. These walls prevent water from entering a precious area and direct it to a more desirable location. It is essentially a flood wall on a small scale.

The cost to build this structure will be dependent on the materials you would like to use if you are doing a DIY project. Of course, pricing is up to contractors if you’d like it professionally done, but materials will still affect the final price tag.

One of the more common materials is a stone veneer, which can fit aesthetically into almost any backyard. Homeowners, on average, spend $12 per square foot for this type of wall, which is lower than some other materials such as poured concrete. We recommend checking out this guide if you’d like to learn more about the costs associated with this project!


Depending on how much water runoff you are getting on your property, fixing the problem isn’t too much of a hassle. The vast majority of the time, it happens due to a house being at the bottom of a hill rather than neighbors’ direct fault.

If you want a quick and easy solution to your water troubles, digging a simple trench that can direct the water where you want it to go is a solid option. But if you’d like a more aesthetically pleasing and functional alternative, you can install a french drainage system that will give your property an aesthetic boost while keeping water away from your garden or anything else you want to protect.

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