I have a rental home that has a small basement. I keep sump pumps running, but they burn out quickly due to sludge coming in from somewhere.
I can't afford to dig up the yard. What do you suggest I should do to keep the water out with a sump pump?
Your problem is caused by water infiltration, or basement leaking. If your basement is leaking as the result of rainfall, it can always be attributed to problems with the roof and surface drainage conditions.
You can't expect a sump pump to fix this problem, but with a few changes, your sump pumps will endure far less wear and tear:
Make sure your gutters and spouts deposit material at least 4 to 6 feet from your house. That should take care of 75% of your problem. The other 25% of the problem is eliminated by improving grading so the soil slopes away.
The overall goal is to keep the soil around your house's foundation dry through good drainage work. Good luck!