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Ask Adam: Collapsing Retaining Wall

This periodic sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos of Arlington-based real estate firm Arbour Realty. Please submit follow-up questions in the comments section or via email.

Question: I’m wondering if you know who is responsible for a collapsing retaining wall between two homes?

I have asked Arianna Gleckel to answer this question. She is a local Arlington-based attorney I highly regard.

The answer to your question may be as simple as finding and marking the property line. The property on which the retaining wall sits is responsible for maintaining the wall. If the wall is not on your property, you are not responsible for the upkeep, maintenance and repair of the retaining wall, even if it is for the benefit of your property. I would recommend getting a licensed surveyor to mark the property line for you along the retaining wall with stakes, and possibly having an engineer evaluate the structural condition of the wall and any remediation that may be needed, based on your description of its current condition. You also should check your deed description and plat to see if they clearly identify whether the retaining wall is on your property. If you have a fence installed already, there is a good chance that your fence abuts the property line and that the retaining wall is not on your property.

However, if the retaining wall straddles the property line, the answer may not be as simple. In Virginia, typically when a retaining wall has been constructed by a property owner to provide lateral support for the soil of a neighboring property, the owner of the neighboring property is not responsible for the upkeep of the retaining wall. So the answer would depend on which property is getting the support from the wall.

If the wall straddles the property lines and you and your neighbor cannot reach an agreement on maintaining the wall, you may need to seek an injunction from the court that requires your neighbor to maintain/replace the wall. If the issue is litigated, other factors that the court may consider are the dates and order in which the impacted homes were constructed and how long the wall has been holding soil and land in place. This timeline can often demonstrate which property is required to maintain the retaining wall. Under Virginia law, if a landowner removes natural lateral support, such as soil from the side of a hill, and substitutes it with artificial support, that is on the landowner’s land, such as a retaining wall, the wall becomes the responsibility of the landowner and subsequent owners of the property upon which the wall sits to maintain it.

Arianna is an attorney with the law firm of Bean, Kinney & Korman in Arlington. She regularly represents individuals and small businesses in real estate, commercial and other civil disputes. This post is for general information and a general understanding of the law only and is not to provide specific legal advice.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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