In Law, what is Lateral Support?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Lateral support is a legal concept involving adjoining landowners. By law, landowners are entitled to natural physical support from the properties that border theirs. If someone makes substantial changes to a property that cause damages to a neighboring property, the affected property owner can bring suit in court. Thus, people need to be careful when they are involved in activities that might cause property damages next door.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

A classic example of a situation where lateral support comes up is in excavations. Property owners may dig to create basements, lay underground utilities, or for other purposes. During excavations, people are required to establish retaining walls and take other measures to protect the neighboring property. If digging causes subsidence and collapse next door and the next door neighbor can show that the digging was the cause, the landowner conducting excavations will be legally liable.

Resource extraction is another context where lateral support becomes important. People may dig wells to access an aquifer or deposits of resources like oil and minerals. Steps must be taken during resource extraction to prevent subsidence of the neighboring properties. If a landowner leases resource extraction rights to another party, that party is responsible for complying with the law and ensuring that the neighboring properties are not deprived of their lateral support.

The laws about lateral support recognize the fact that while landowners have a right to use their own land as they please, certain activities may adversely affect neighboring properties. Just as people are not allowed to engage in polluting activities, even on private property, because these activities harm the neighbors, people cannot undermine the lateral support of an adjacent property, even with fully permitted activities, such as excavating to make a basement.

The issue of lateral support with excavations can be a particularly large problem in urban areas. Lot lines are often tight and it is very easy to cause damages to a neighboring property with activities like digging out a basement for a high rise. When new structures are planned, the company supervising the construction usually develops extensive plans for building retaining laws and monitoring conditions on site for any sign that lateral support of neighboring properties is being undermined.

This concept in the law is designed to protect the interests of all landowners by spelling out the responsibilities adjacent landowners have to each other. There are a number of other laws that pertain to people who own adjacent properties.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@lighth0se33 - I wish I had thought to plant small, short plants along my property line. For some strange reason, I thought that planting fruit trees would be a good idea.

My neighbor had a long row of flower bulbs planted a few feet from where I had set out the fruit trees. A couple of years after I had planted them, she claimed that the roots of my trees were choking out her bulbs and causing her flowers to die off.

She also said that the ripe fruits were landing on top of her flowers and squashing them. Since her bulbs had been there before my fruit trees, she demanded that I remove them.

We went to court, and sadly, I lost. I really had not thought about how far tree roots extend when they are grown. They can do damage to other things as well, such as above-ground pool liners, so everyone should take their neighbors’ yards into account before planting trees.


Animals can be responsible for lateral support law suits too. My dogs had a love of moles, which live underground. They would dig deep, wide holes in search of these creatures, and unfortunately, they tended to live right on the edge of my neighbor’s yard.

She had flowers and bushes growing along the property line, and my dogs were damaging their roots. Some of them had even begun to lean over, since their support was diminished.

I offered to repair her garden, but she was so angry that all she wanted to do was sue me. I ended up having to pay, and I also had to put a fence around my yard to keep my dogs in check.


@cloudel - It’s hard to believe that some people don’t have any more sense than that. I would never put anything up against my neighbor’s yard, much less a giant hole!

I know how many neighbors can get into squabbles over exactly where the property lines are, so right after I moved in, I talked to my neighbor about the specific location of it. Once we agreed upon where it was, I planted a row of flowering shrubs a few feet from the line on my side.

Now, we have proof of where the line is. Those shrubs will never grow large enough to jut onto his property, so the line’s location is clearly defined.


My aunt took her neighbor to court for digging a pool right up against her yard. Her property curved downward, and at the bottom of the hill was his pool, which went to eight feet deep in one spot.

Not long after the crew had dug the hole where the deep end would go, a big rain came. Because the hilly side of her yard was no longer supported, big chunks of earth fell off it and into his pool site.

She was furious, because her property was eroding, due to his irresponsible actions. The judge ruled that he had to pay for her new sod, and he also had to move his pool site further away from the dividing line.

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