Drainage Contractor

Features Guest Column
Neighboring landowner BMPs

Keeping things above board and positive with neighboring property owners is good for business (and getting along).

June 3, 2024  By Ryan Arch, executive director, ILLICA



All contractors have been there: you’re working for a landowner or tenant on a project that is “land locked” between neighboring properties. It could be standing crop, limited equipment loading/unloading access, or inadequate bridge crossings. Or maybe you have access to your project site, but your project area includes work at or near the property line of a neighbor’s. 

Regardless of the situation, and whether or not the landowner you are working for is a “Hatfield” or a “McCoy,” we have compiled some best management practices (BMPs) to help keep you and your company on the honorable neighborhood list, preventing downtime and future lost business opportunities.

Know thy decision-maker
Few things are more frustrating than taking the time and effort to meet and discuss a project with a customer only to discover that they do not have the authority, as a partner or tenant, to ultimately make the on-farm decisions, or worse yet to discover that they do not have any ties to the property they are leading you onto for the project; it’s happened…

Most landowners and tenants wouldn’t purposely lead a contractor into litigious situations, but it is critical to identify your customer’s ties to the property upfront. This can be accomplished during project discussions where you directly ask who the decision maker is, who owns this ground, who owns any of the infrastructure in the project area, and what’s the contact information for them. 

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As you document any project details, jot down the information your customer is providing regarding property ownership, contact info, neighbors, etc. for future reference, and don’t forget to date stamp and file these notes for further safe keeping should you need them. 

Know thy project scope
Proper pre-planning increases efficiency, reduces costs and enhances safety. Applying these skills to evaluate a project’s scope, or area of impact, to help better identify any project specific considerations but also to help identify situations that may impact a neighboring landowner’s property. 

For example, compare equipment operation and space requirements to design sets. Is the last lateral of your drainage system installation far enough back from the neighbor’s property line, or would your equipment have to be “nosed out” across the property line to complete the run? Does your designed waterway grade logically blend with the neighbor’s receiving waterway downstream, or will some grading be required at or beyond the property line to ensure the new waterway’s function after construction? Are you able to clear your customer’s fence row entirely from their side of the property, or is it likely you may need drop trees onto the neighbor’s side for safer removal? Every project has an area of impact that should be closely reviewed, especially when there is neighboring property not owned by your customer.

Know thy neighbor
Everybody has a neighbor. Whether or not they are on speaking terms with their neighbor is a different story. Luckily, as a contractor, you just must be cognizant and respectful of the neighboring landowners and their property. If your project area of impact is solely on the property of your customer’s and there are no foreseen impacts (direct or indirect) beyond the field border, you are likely in good shape to proceed with your project without further ado. If, however, your project may be crossing the property line or contributing more concentrated surface or subsurface drainage flow, for example, you will need to work with your customer to identify their neighbor. What are their names, how are their existing relationships with their neighbors, what’s the best way for you to contact them, etc.?

Most contractors are pros at navigating personalities, finding solutions and getting the job done. That said, working across property lines on projects, intended or unintended, can have real consequences without prior planning and clear communication; even the seasoned pros have a story or two to share about that. Do yourself a favor and “love thy neighbor as thyself” …or at least treat their property as you would want yours to be treated. You never know: that neighbor could just be your next big customer.  DC


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