Who’s Responsible for Site Work Problems?
Soil conditions in Alaska can and do vary widely from street to street and even lot to lot in residential development. No matter how many test holes are dug prior to building a road or putting in a foundation, there are almost always surprises—some good and some not so good. So who’s responsible if the ground has settled around a foundation, over utility trenches or in other areas of a homeowner’s lot? The performance guidelines for virtually all warranty items, published for Professional Builders and Remodelers by the National Association of Home Builders, is the go to bible that almost all Alaskan builders follow. So the performance guideline for this particular problem is “Settled ground around foundation walls, over utility trenches, or in other filled areas should not interfere with water drainage away from the home”. The corrective measure requires the contractor who provided the final grading to fill areas that settle more than six inches or that affect proper drainage. The contractor is responsible only during the warranty period and must comply only one time. The contractor should make a good faith effort to preserve plantings but interestingly enough, it is not his responsibility to replace shrubs, grass, pavement, sidewalks or other improvements affected by the repair.
If the property does not properly drain it is the builder’s responsibility to ensure drainage within 10 feet around the home or whatever is required by municipal code. This is the rainy season in Alaska and standing water should not remain for extended periods (no more than 24 hours) within 10 feet of the home except in swales that drain other areas or in areas where sump pumps receive discharge. A heavy rain allows for 48 hours to dissipate. But wait! Not everything is the responsibility of the contractor. The homeowner also has responsibility to maintain grass and other landscaping to help ensure the property drainage system functions properly. It is their responsibility to maintain grades and swales that have been installed by the contractor. And, unfortunately, some inexperienced landscapers ignore the need for proper drainage and create retaining walls or flowering beds that interfere with proper drainage. This is a fairly common problem between property owners with smaller lots on the hillside where a drainage ditch or swale may run down a common lot line and due to differences in grade one property owner builds a retaining wall. Then, water from the adjacent property moves onto the consumer’s property. The contractor is not responsible for water flowing from a nearby or adjacent property. The downhill flow of water is a natural occurrence and each property owner must own up to their individual responsibility.
Proper drainage first begins with the land developer who must submit a drainage plan to the MOA before he/she is granted a permit to build the subdivision. The home builder must then comply with the drainage plan but so must the homeowner who is responsible for the long term maintenance of such grades and swales, including but not limited to any soil erosion after construction is completed. It is the contractor’s responsibility to preserve existing landscaping and/or natural vegetation wherever possible but the survival of existing vegetation is never guaranteed, especially in Alaska where roots are shallow.