New home came with drainage problems

Posted8/21/2022 6:00 AM

Q: We bought a newly built home about three years ago. Since then we have been dealing with drainage issues, mainly pooling rainwater in the backyard. We've worked with the builder and the city to get the matter corrected, but nothing they've done has worked. I've asked repeatedly for the yard to be regraded, but they argue that the grading was done according to plan and was approved by the city.

They blame the problem on the placement of the catch basins, but if that was a problem, then why was the grading approved. Shouldn't the city have an official document noting that the grading was approved according to plans? If not, what else can we do to end this problem?


A: Problems of this kind with builders and building departments are not uncommon and can be challenging. To begin, here are some of the standards, variables and potential solutions.

Grading and drainage requirements for residential properties can vary from one municipality to another, but the primary requirements are contained in chapter R401.3 of the International Residential Code (IRC), as follows:

"Lots shall be graded to drain surface water away from foundation walls. The grade shall fall a minimum of 6 inches within the first 10 feet."

Also: "Where lot lines, walls, slopes or other physical barriers prohibit 6 inches of fall with 10 feet, drains or swales shall be constructed to ensure drainage away from the structure."

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The question in your situation is whether the pooling in your yard is occurring within 10 feet of the building and whether the plans and/or municipal requirements address drainage conditions in yard areas beyond the 10-foot boundary.

Aside from these requirements, it should be noted that municipal building inspections are rarely comprehensive or thorough. This why home inspectors who are hired to inspect newly built homes typically find defects that were overlooked by municipal inspectors. Government inspectors are exempt from liability and, therefore, are under no pressure to be precise or thorough in the course of their inspections. Ergo, the fact that the drainage conditions on your property were officially approved does not constitute proof of compliance or adequacy.

As for builders, there are two basic kinds. Those who are motivated by professional ethics are responsive to the concerns of people who buy their homes. Those who are not so motivated find endless excuses to sidestep customer complaints. Examples are commonly heard among buyers of new homes.

If diplomacy fails, give these approaches a try.

One way to motivate builders is to file a complaint with the state agency that licenses building contractors. You can also seek advice from an attorney who specializes in construction defect law. In many instances, a strongly worded attorney letter can be motivational.


Bureaucrats, such as building officials, can also be awakened from their intransigence. An effective technique is to schedule a face-to-face meeting with an elected official, such as a city council member. Elected officials have staff members who address the concerns of constituents and who make helpful phone calls to that effect. Bureaucrats tend to dread such calls and will often do whatever is needed to make those complaints go away.

• Email Barry Stone at

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