How to alert buyers of existing issues?

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Submitted by JC on February 15, 2019 - 3:29pm

Hola. I have a neighbor who is involved in a major construction project that attempted to encroach and who has been very unresponsive to requests to stop damaging my property during said construction project. The construction likely (but not certainly) caused a belly in our shared sewer line. The county and city agree that it is likely their issue but think the only way I can get them to fix is to sue. As jerky as they have been, I have no desire to sue anyone. I think they are trying to flip the house, so I tried to have the sewer line video recorded into the property record for any potential buyers to be aware of but was told that I can't do that. Anyone have any non aggressive ways to alert potential buyers that they may have a costly sewer fix on their hands or will a general property inspection reveal that? I will try to send a certified letter to the current owners to advise of the issue but they have not responded to any of my polite messages thus far.

Submitted by FlyerInHi on February 15, 2019 - 3:38pm.

Send a certified letter to the selling broker. If they know about an issue, they must disclose.

Keep a copy of the letter you sent to the current owner.

Provide all the info to the next owner and let them do with it what they want.

Or if you see people coming over to look at the house, go talk to them.

Submitted by gzz on February 15, 2019 - 5:03pm.

If they are damaging your property and not fixing it, sounds like they are being the aggressive ones.

Submitted by JC on February 15, 2019 - 10:37pm.

Thank you. Very sound advice. And, they are being the aggressive ones, but I want to live here in peace for a long time. They are probably flipping as it would not be smart to be this jerky when you live super close and share a sewer line. I love my neighborhood and most of my neighbors.

Submitted by Hobie on February 16, 2019 - 12:11pm.

Time to get your ducks in a row. Get a plumber to document the damage. Get pics showing how construction is causing damage. Get letters from city/county (long shot). Have lawyer send letter as now they are on notice. Plus, filing a lawsuit will cloud title and may provide incentive for them to be more cooperative and fix problems.

Submitted by JC on February 17, 2019 - 7:33am.

Ugh, but thank you very much.

I already have video of the line from a plumber and a second opinion from another plumber plus the input from the city and county. I also have the first certified letter I sent to the owner and general contractor covering the encroachment, damage to my property and aggressive behavior of the contractor (actually claimed I was not allowed to talk to the owner of the property?!?), all of the emails to the project manager at the city and the code violation reports. I am sure I can find a way to save the terrible texts from the general contractor and have all of this ready.

It's a little late for this, but I still don't understand why a neighbor would not alert another neighbor of a major construction project and try to work with them throughout so as to avoid this kind of conflict. Nor, do I understand why a general contractor would be this jerky. I would think word of mouth would be pretty important?

Thanks again for the help.

Submitted by JC on May 10, 2020 - 8:54pm.

Epilogue: Sadly, you were all correct.

At the time of the original post, I had already sent the first certified letter (attempted encroachment, damage to my property and contractor who dropped the F bomb every time I politely but firmly asked him to stop damaging my property).

In early March 2019, a second certified letter was sent detailing the plumbing issues outlined above and the likely cause (their major construction). They sent a response essentially saying too bad and lied about the encroachment. I limped along barely being able to use my plumbing but still not pulling the trigger on the lawsuit. I just could not see me suing anyone.

Nov 2019 -- had a more significant sewer back-up. Alerted neighbors immediately. Response? More "not it". After several days of having to shower at the gym and use local businesses for their restrooms over the Thanksgiving holiday, I walked a plumber over to their home to explain in a patient and detailed way the probable impact to their home by not working with me to fix the damage they caused. They would not budge except to hint that they might pay half of the emergency fix. (Meanwhile, they told the plumber to charge me 75 percent and them 25 percent?). At this point, I start to get more firm that we need to work on this. Their response? Have an attorney friend of their Dad's write me what I can only call an "attempted bullying" letter ---along the lines of "don't mess with me, I am a very good lawyer" but then used the a very strange argument as to why his "client" should not have to fix the sewer. That was, "my client should not have to pay because he did not know he bought a house with a shared sewer". Weird. And, at this point, I do file a small claims lawsuit. They promptly file for an extension of the court date to 11/2020.

Spring 2020 -- I back-up again, but I just wait it out this time. (At this point, I know they are prone to lying and was pretty sure they were backing up every time I did). About 3 weeks later, I notice plumbing work being done on their home. I send a photo of this to them asking for an explanation as i have provided them with copies of all of the work I have had done and what the plumbers were suggesting we needed to do. I see no plumbing trick in the vicinity when work was happening. I do know they forced the contractor to fix (demonstrating that the issue was indeed due to their construction). They refuse to provide the details on any of the work done. (I suspect they did the bare minimum which is going to hurt both of us).

So, as of now, I have not had full use of my sewer for 1.5 years and counting. Could not list my house last Summer without taking a big loss because of this and am still having to do laundry at a laundromat during a pandemic.

I'd love any additional ideas, but I am mostly posting this in case someone else is considering being nice and trying to help educate neighbors while postponing your own use and enjoyment of your property. Small claims was very easy to file and was the only thing that started to get their attention. Makes me sad to say thins as I never wanted to sue anyone.

Hope you all are safe and well and thank you for all of the good guidance.

Submitted by barnaby33 on May 11, 2020 - 9:58am.

Substitue HOA for neighbor and my experience last October was not dissimilar. Only difference is it is almost impossible to sue your HOA and win.
Josh

Submitted by JC on May 11, 2020 - 8:52pm.

Josh,

I am so sorry you had a similar experience. I can't imagine putting another person in that situation.

The only scenario I have had where I could have caused a problem for a neighbor is when a tree of mine decided to self prune and sent a large limb to the ground. First thing I did after making sure no one was hurt was to alert the closest neighbor who was not home so they could make plans to come home and investigate versus returning to a nasty surprise. Next thing I did was to ask permission to start clearing the tree at 6am so we could both be sure there was no damage to her home. She immediately agreed and I took action at 6am and cleared the majority of debris in one day. And, now I try to trim the tree at the first sign of too much growth.

Grateful that I have at least one good neighbor.

Jen
P.S. Sent another request to the neighbor that caused the sewer issues last night requesting that they have compassion. As you might have guessed, I received no response.

Submitted by Hobie on May 13, 2020 - 7:34pm.

JC: I've been holding off commenting further but I really have to.

If taking a shower causes a main line sewer to back up, that is a sanitary/plumbing emergency.

Given the time elapsed doesn't help your case noting the urgency of this problem.

Sounds like the guy is basing the small claims extension date to after he sells. Might be tougher to prove and (find and serve)if he is gone.

You need to come to grips that if he goes you will have to pay for all of the repair yourself.

Get the cost to make the repair and compare it to the legal fee to file against neighbor. This might give you some insight as to what to do now.

Trying to get a new owner to pay will not be easy as he will balk and claim nothing was disclosed and since the problem appears to show up on your property ---its your problem alone.

Sounds like you have a bunch a good evidence. Sit down with a real estate atty or two for the free consult.

That will give you clarity on the case and remember if you win the neighbor will pay fees. Might be interesting to find out of you could actually lien his property for the repair costs given the shared sewer. Dunno..

Good Luck.

Submitted by JC on May 17, 2020 - 7:04am.

Hi Hobie,

Thanks for taking the time to provide your thoughts on this. Much appreciated.

Complete back-ups would happen with just normal use, so I have had to have extreme minimal use to minimize these for 1.5 years and counting. So, showering is ok if I do nothing else - no laundry and nothing down any drains. (Note: I live in a old home so I was pretty darn careful even before all of this).

I did all of the work for this neighbor - consulted many plumbers, got quotes on the fix and a plan for how to maintain the line to minimize future issues. I even walked a plumber over to their home to patiently explain the risk to their home and mine. If they had addressed when notified 1) probably zero cost as they forced their contractor to address recently 2) cost way less than the small claims case if they had just paid out of pocket -- about 3k for the fix/10k for small claims.

The extension of the court date was given as my neighbor is in the military. I was sort of shocked to find that this person was in the military after all of this bad behavior. My experience with individuals in the military in the past has always been fair if not perfect which seems reasonable to me.

I am still awaiting some sort of proof of the fix which I think is very unlikely. They are also claiming they don't know my costs even though it was detailed in the paper work they were served with.

I did price out putting my own line in, but the cost starts at like 20k and sounds like it is quite hard to get approval for and that folks often run into huge time delays and increased costs.

I hope my situation is unusual.... Interesting point about the lien. Their property is impacted too. Pretty sure that is what finally motivated them -- when the last back-up hit, I just waited it out instead of calling a plumber immediately. (I was pretty sure they were just using me to do all of the fixes). Sure enough, about a week or two later, I saw work being done at their home.

I would be excited if they actually fixed the problems caused by the construction, but their refusal to provide the paperwork and the pattern of evasion and lying means it is very unlikely.

Thanks again.

Submitted by FlyerInHi on May 17, 2020 - 9:46am.

Very sorry to hear about your issues.

I don’t think a belly in the pipe would cause a backup like this.

Sounds like the contractors got construction material down the sewer pipe. I have seen it happen. Some contractors are quite careless. I have heard of plumbers breaking their snakes and leaving them in the pipe.

Are you sure the neighbor has the same problems you are experiencing?

Of course, the neighbor is not going to provide any paperwork. My guess is that when they go to court, they will claim that it’s a shared line and that you caused the problem. Construction was just coincidental.

Submitted by JC on May 17, 2020 - 6:58pm.

Hi FlyerInHI,

Thank you for commenting. I had a camera inspection of the line and had at least 3 plumbers provide opinions. The first backup happened at the very end of the neighbor's large construction project and the plumbers I consulted (some viewed the video -- some did not) were all in agreement that is was certainly the construction that caused the back-up. The line is old, but the belly was new and there were some areas where the connection did not look right under my neighbors property that looked new. There ARE other issues with the sewer (roots, corrosion) that are probably more related to age and I was not asking the neighbor to address those immediately. I asked that they fix the damage caused by their construction and that we work on a plan to mutually address the issues with the age of the line. (Plumbers suggested a yearly maintenance plan for now that seemed very reasonable and seemed to be in both of our interests as it should prolong the amount of time between the immediate necessary fix and any other intervention).

I do not know for sure that the neighbor had the same issue as me. It would just fit with the timing and their pattern of evasion and lying over the past 2 years (I proactively shared info with them before I knew for sure that it was their construction that caused the issues because it is the right thing to do -- I feel confident that most people would not want to put a neighbor through this even if their motivation was not to be a decent human and just to minimize the amount of exposure they would have).

I am sure you are right that they will try to blame me when we go to court. Fortunately, I saved every piece of documentation -- their attempted encroachment (prior to plumbing issue), other damage and safety issues during construction, all of the plumbing issues and consultations with plumbers and of 7 months of ago -- I had all of my interactions with plumbers looping them in. Including their lie to the last plumber that I had agreed to pay 75% for the back-up caused by them.

I know this probably seems impossible that a neighbor would be this nervy. I am still shocked that they would do this. Our proprieties are almost on top of each other. If I wanted to, I could make their lives very unpleasant, but I really don't want to be like them.

I really hope that this is an unusual occurrence. They have been so awful, that I wanted to sell my home last year, but I couldn't without taking a bit hit on price assuming someone would even want to buy my place with this issue. (I, for one, would not touch a property with this kind of issue).

Thanks again, I appreciate all of the input.

Submitted by FlyerInHi on May 19, 2020 - 6:04am.

JC, you don’t have a lot of time to explain yourself in small claims court.

Keep it short and relevant for the judge. You need to prove exactly what is causing the clog in the common drain and that the obstruction was caused by the neighbor. Affidavits from plumbers and photos will do. The judge does not have time for long videos.
Better if you can have the plumbers come testify in court with you.

Avoid talking about what the neighbor did to his house, etc... the judge won’t care about the major renovation to the neighbor’s house. He will focus on the common part of the pipe that is servicing both units.

Submitted by JC on September 6, 2020 - 12:14pm.

Update time and a question for military members on next steps:

Recap:
•Neighbor attempted to encroach in 2018 during a major construction project (after much effort got that to stop)
•Neighbor broke the sewer line in early 2019 toward the end of their construction causing back-up into my home.
•I notified neighbor of break/back-up via certified letter (they moved out during construction). I indicated urgency to fix. (Clean out is on their property so needed cooperation)
•They replied with a "not it" response and denied the encroachment and other items establishing a pattern of shady behavior. They stopped responding after that.
•2nd back-up occurred a few months later - they were warned this would happen if we did not address. They lied and said they did not back-up when I did and tried to hide in their house when I came to notify them.
•I walked a very nice plumber over to their house to help them understand the risk to their home and mine. They acted like they were going to cooperate, but lied to the plumber and told him to charge me for the clearing of the line and refused to discuss the actual fix of the line.
•Then, they had a lawyer send me a threatening letter to tell me to put in my own sewer line as they were not aware they purchased a home with a shared sewer line??!? (I had tracked down all of the estimates for them on the fix, contacted my insurance company for ideas on how they could get help on paying for the fix). The idea to approach their contractor worked.
•At this point, I filed a small claims suit
•They push out the court day as far as they can and then Covid hits.
*Several months later, I see someone working on the sewer line. The neighbors only confirm this is happening after multiple requests and FINALLY admit that their construction broke the line. However, they refuse to provide the kind of proof that would allow me to rent a room, refinance or sell my home without taking a big hit.
•I engage the mediator to help on our dispute. They have another attorney send me a threatening letter saying I am harassing them by asking them politely to provide proof of fix. (It took me months to find a reputable plumber that would fix for 3k versus the initial 10k quote). The neighbors somehow did a fix for $600. I'd love to believe this was an actual fix, but with all of the shady behavior, it seems very unlikely.
•After I set the neighbor's attorney straight on who has done what and that I am not trying to hurt his clients, the neighbors start acting like they were work with the mediator, but have gone dark again.

If you are still with me, the question I have is related to next steps. 2 former military members have advised me to go to the CO of the neighbor. I don't want to hurt anyone's employment. They have assured me that this would not hurt the neighbor's employment and that this will get the fastest response, but I'd like to hear from other military members first to be sure.

Thank you if you read all of this. And, thank you even more if you have some ideas on this.

Submitted by Hobie on September 7, 2020 - 7:58pm.

JC: I suggest dropping the mediator and continue w small claims. Get large (8x10) pics showing contractor damaging pipe and practice your persuasive speech laying out your claim in ~5min. Bring in the higher estimate of a repair.

Draw a easy to read timeline of events for judge to see. Dates,times phone calls, letters: who said what and when.

Something to keep in mind is small claims courts tend to like to see actual cost receipts. ie. you pay for the fix and are suing for reimbursement.

I would wait until you have a judgement, and he does not pay, before contacting his CO.

You also need to prove $600 repair did nor fix problem. ie Statement from plumber or better yet, bring him into court.

Submitted by Coronita on September 8, 2020 - 6:31am.

Thanks to this thread, I learned from you JC and made sure over the weekend to jump on a plumbing issue shared between my condo and the owner above me.

Quote:

Me: Hey dude, my tenant told me the kitchen drain is plugged, and thinks the drain empties to a common drain pipe shared between our unit and he thinks he saw your tenant moving out and emptying shit down the sink. I had to dispatch my plumber.

Owner Upstairs: (no response for a few hours)

Me: Hey dude again, my plumber says that the drain was clogged when he took part of the drain hose off that runs from your condo upstairs to mine below. He ended up needing to snake the drain 15 feet below and after a few hours was able to get it cleared. This is the 4th plumbing issue, could we split the bill. The bill is $135

Owner Upstairs: oh, thanks but no, it's not my tenants fault.

Me: Well it's a common drain, my tenant says they were moving out as you were preparing the condo for sale. I was being nice and offered to split the bill with you. It was $135 total, so your portion would be $67.50

Owner Upstairs: I don't think it's my tenants fault, so no.

Me: Well, ok that's fine. If you would rather me take it up with your prospective buyer while they are in escrow, that's fine. I don't mind asking the would be new buyer if they plan on paying for the unsettled plumbing bill. By the way, this is the 4th plumbing issue I had with your unit in 2 years. I guess since we are talking about plumbing issues, you have plans to disclose of these issues to your new buyer, right? I don't want to approach your buyer and be the messenger of all the plumbing issues you've had with your unit. The last thing I would hate would be what I need to say to your new buyer would potentially delay escrow or cause a transaction to fall out of escrow, as I'm sure I will check with your listing agent if all the plumbing issues that I'm aware of has been properly disclosed and ensure all potential buyers that I or my tenant ends up talking to were aware of the major 4 plumbing incidents that happened over the past 2 years.

(Considering this guy has a history of trying to get out of paying for water damage his unit does to mine and trying to doing the cheapest thing, I'm pretty sure he's not going to disclose of the previous 3 plumbing issues that caused water damage to my unit)....

Owner Upstair: wow FLU, you would fuck up escrow over $67.50? Send me your plumber's info so I can confirm
(Sent this morning at 545am since he's over in Texas a remote owner)

Me: No, it's not my intention to fuck up escrow over $67.50. But considering you are trying to sell the condo for $300k+, I thought you were being penny wise, pound foolish for giving me a hard time over something that was $135 split by 2...especially considering the history of plumbing issues we've had from the 2nd floor...again...Check your text again. I tried to reason with you about splitting the bill. You said no, it wasn't your problem, you don't give a shit. I think if you were in my situation, you would have asked your property manager what to do, and your property manager would have said told you to do the same thing. Go after the amount from the new prospective buyer. And if it "fucks up" escrow, it's not your problem, the same way that when a common drain issue occurs, how he thinks its "not his problem"

I dont know, I were in your situation, when the irate owner of the unit below you is contacting you out of the blue for yet another plumbing issue (the 4th one) and hasn't contacted you for a long time for anything other than a real issue, I probably would have said "oh, a common plumbing issue... ok, would you mind sending me your plumber so I can confirm, and if this is really a shared drain line, yes I would be happy to split the cost of the work your plumber did to clear both our drains...because I wouldn't want the drain to be plugged impacting your current tenant that is still living there and my potential new buyer while they are doing a home inspection since it's the same common drain.... And since it's $135, half of that isn't a big deal..."... But this is the 4th plumbing issue. And once again, rather that trying to hear what I was trying to rationalizing explain to you, you basically blew me off again and said, "not my problem"..So I was prepared to get my property manager to reach out to your listing agent to ensure that the message got through to you, and to ensure you were properly disclosing a 4 major plumbing issues you've had in the past that affected my unit and caused some damage and that there was an unsettled plumbing bill outstanding.

Owner Upstairs: I think you had a misunderstanding of what I said.

Me: If it's a misunderstanding, you have nothing to worry about then... I'll send you a scan bill after it's 8am here. My plumber isn't up yet anyway since it's 541am here still.

As the saying goes. For some people, you give them an inch, they'll try to take a mile. I don't even give people an inch, when they have a history of being an unreasonable cheap ass. It's not the $67.50 that really matters, it's the principle and history of dealing with this guy. He and his insurance didn't want to pay for a $7000 water claim. I ended up trying to sue him and his insurance for $25k for loss of wages loss of earnings, trip charges etc. We settled for $15k from his insurance. You would think after that, and a two other plumbing issues he tried to get out of also, that on the 4th one that happened right now during escrow, he would just say how much and what happened and cut the check no questions asked... Go figure.

Thank you JC for sharing your unfortunate experience. I learned a lot from reading this thread, and I've learned to be a big asshole if there's an issue over a shared plumbing, especially if the other party(ies) consistently try to ignore the shared responsibility portion.

Submitted by ltsddd on September 8, 2020 - 8:59am.

Hobie wrote:
JC: I suggest dropping the mediator and continue w small claims. Get large (8x10) pics showing contractor damaging pipe and practice your persuasive speech laying out your claim in ~5min. Bring in the higher estimate of a repair.

Draw a easy to read timeline of events for judge to see. Dates,times phone calls, letters: who said what and when.

Something to keep in mind is small claims courts tend to like to see actual cost receipts. ie. you pay for the fix and are suing for reimbursement.

I would wait until you have a judgement, and he does not pay, before contacting his CO.

You also need to prove $600 repair did nor fix problem. ie Statement from plumber or better yet, bring him into court.

One suggestion, if you haven't done so already, is to put all offenders as defendants in your filing. The neighbor, the neighbor's contractors, etc. If they play the blaming game then they could do that in front of the judge. Also, it's interesting to see how game theory (prisoner's dilemna) works in real life.

And I agree with others about keeping it really simple for the court. This is what happened, he hired that contractor, the contractor did that and damaged this. Here's the cost to remedy the problem - and let the neighbor and his contractor sort it out as who's responsible.

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