Adventures of the Flooded 4-Plex


Mornings at the Nelson household usually begin with Heather hitting the trails with the dogs. About the time she’s getting back to the house, I’m headed out for a lap myself.

On Monday, at about 7 a.m., as I opened the front door, I stopped in my tracks at the sheer amount of water already pooled on our driveway — and still falling steadily.

I hiked the sloppy, wet trails, then went to work, ran errands, picked up last minute gifts… and during that whole time, the rain didn’t let up for a single minute.

Until it turned to snow, then continued to fall just as hard.

At 9 p.m. that night, the phone rang.

It was a tenant from our Sehome Hill 4-plex, calling to say that his bedroom carpet was soaking wet.

He lives in one of two ground-level, daylight basement apartment units with his roommate Jack. Both ground-level apartments are 2-bedroom, and the bedrooms all line up against the back wall, facing the hillside.

Of course his roommates floor was soaking wet too.

I was of course disappointed and felt horrible for the tenants. But I wasn’t surprised. The rain and then snow were just so incessant all day… any basement with any breach at all was bound be wet.

I made sure they were OK waiting until morning, which they were. There was nothing I could do at that point anyway… the precipitation now piled up above the completely-saturated ground.

The next morning I loaded some carpet-pulling and floor-drying tools and equipment, and drove to the 4-plex.

Ugh. the carpets were positively soaked, for sure. And the tenants had their entire worlds laid out all over their floors, the way I did when I was a college-student-aged tenant.

  • Clothes
  • Boxes
  • Backpacks
  • Books
  • Tools
  • Art
  • Dishes
  • Baskets
  • Need I go on?

It was all soaked. And of course the water went right up to the base of the shared wall with the other apartment.

I asked if they’d checked with those tenants to see if there was water there too. They said, “They’re gone for the holidays.”

I reached the other tenants, who were in Los Angeles and Seattle through Christmas, and got permission to enter their apartment.

Wet, wet, wet. Just as wet, or wetter.

I spent an hour hauling stuff out of their rooms and to high-and-dry ground, so to speak. I did what I could… but again, picture these college bachelors’ rooms.

This is a stock image to protect everyone’s privacy… but basically this:

But OK… no one was freaking out, everyone was keeping a level head, so now to get down to fixing this situation.


STEP 1: We need to get the nasty, waterlogged stuff either up and drying or out of there completely.

These guys’ personal property is theirs to deal with for now. My instructions to them were to empty their bedrooms completely, and then call me.

When I get that call, which I haven’t yet, I’ll get in there and rip out the carpets and get some blowers going to start drying out the floor.

I *may* remove some sheetrock too… it depends on whether it too is soaked and also if I can see any obvious water entry points.

(The out-of-town tenants need to get home first and then unload / pack-up their rooms before I can rip those carpets out.)

See those footprints in the carpet, in the pic below? That is saturation.

STEP 2: within a half-hour of seeing the situation on Tuesday morning, I had called two different contractors.

The first was Foundation Restoration (FR), who focus on exactly this type of situation and who have a wide range of different ways to approach it. Most interesting with FR is that they often do major waterproofing from the inside, rather than having to excavate to address it from the outside.

They were, of course, being inundated with phone calls due to the rains but scheduled to come out and look at the job on Monday, December 28th.

The second contractor, who came highly recommended by my friend Tyler, was All-Phase Excavation. The idea with him is to use a backhoe to pull the earth away from building all the way to the footing, coat the wall with a waterproofing product, install “dimple board” membrane, replace whatever failed perimeter drain exists there now, and backfill the whole thing with drain rock.

Here’s a photo of the back wall that will need to be fully excavated.


Any time I have property repair issues of this magnitude, I check in with my go-to insurance guy Erik Dyrland with Farmers. If you already work with Erik and his team, you know exactly why I love having him on speed-dial and closely in my network.

In cases like this, I’m looking for an education, and that’s exactly what Erik delivered.

He explained that rain water that seeps into the ground and then into a building is not a “flood” and it’s not necessarily an insurable event.

Flood damage, which requires flood insurance, which I don’t have and couldn’t even get on such a hill-top building, is water that comes in ON TOP OF the ground, like when a river breaches its banks or a storm surge pushes an ocean into your living room.

Nor will the tenants be filing any insurance claims for their stuff. We’ll settle up on the side.

In the end, this enchilada will be an out-of-pocket “Cap-X” or “capital expenditure” measuring in the thousands… it’s too soon to tell with any accuracy.


Ahh… the highs and lows of being a landlord. But truthfully, the stars seem very, VERY aligned with this situation so far.

  • The site is easily accessed by the backhoe operator.
  • The tenants are being super cool.
  • The rain stopped (at least for a few days).
  • The former owner is taking some responsibility as well… though that’s another story.
  • We’ll get through it and move on.
  • And I will capture the process and share what I learn.