Reader question: I have a neighbor with a house for sale. He had another neighbor with a backhoe come into his yard the other day and dig up a portion of the yard to bury a large amount of trash. By trash, I mean lumber, building materials, large metal signs, furniture, cans, bottles, plastic garbage bags full of who knows what, and there may even have been BBQ fluid and a jug of DDT thrown into the hole. The digging spanned two days, and I was in a state of disbelief at what I saw. I emailed the real estate agent to alert the new owners about the “Buried Treasure.” I believe it fell on deaf ears. Reporting to authorities could bring about retaliation. The county issues dump permits to take our trash to the landfill for free. Is this legal?
Monty’s answer: A federal law called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act controls hazardous waste from “cradle to grave.” View it at http://bit.ly/2Dnla5O. Also, state governments have laws regulating hazardous waste that can be more restrictive than federal law. Your comment that the “Buried Treasure” should be disclosed on the seller condition report is accurate for a variety of reasons. If the regulators came to believe the owner buried BBQ fluid and some quantity of DDT in the yard it could lead to expensive consequences. If you find the agent ignored your warning, inform the real estate agent’s broker.
The water supply
The Department of Natural Resources in your state will be interested in learning of this development on the property. They will most likely see to it that the owner remediates the situation if someone makes them aware of it. If you have a drilled well, you should be concerned about any buried material finding its way into your water supply.
Fearing retaliation is a common concern, yet you could be jeopardizing your health. Most states have a hotline where one can anonymously report violations. Additionally, witnessing this event could come back to haunt you. What will happen if your new neighbor accidentally discovers the pit when they install a new swimming pool or make some other improvement?
I feel an obligation to opine on your witness role. If I saw my neighbor burying trash in his backyard with a backhoe, I would report the incident immediately. Consider promptly seeking a legal opinion.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money – An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty.