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When is Your City Responsible for a Plumbing Repair?

Let’s face it, dealing with a sewer line backup or a replacement can be an annoyance and very expensive for any homeowner. As a homeowner, the ultimate responsibility for residential plumbing problems such as a clogged sink drain lies with you. But, what if there is a plumbing problem located beyond your property line? At what point does the city become responsible for repairing the problem? There are certain cases where the city or local municipality would be held responsible for a plumbing repair and other times when the homeowner will have to deal with the problem. In this article, we will examine this issue in more detail to help you make informed decisions.

The City and Plumbing Problems

A sewer backup can incur an expensive repair bill that any homeowner would prefer to be handled by the city or municipality. But, in most cases, the city will not accept any responsibility for plumbing repairs needed on a residential home. The most common problem is sewer backups and determining who is responsible for the inspection and repair.

Dealing with Sewer Backups

When a sewer system becomes clogged, it prevents the passage of waste and wastewater. That water and material has to go somewhere, and if it cannot leave, it simply backs up into the home. A clog can be formed with a combination of soap scum, grease, hair, toilet paper, and other products that are described as “flushable.” In fact, flushable wipes are a very common cause of sewer backups, and they should be avoided.

Some basic sewer backups can be fixed with a cup plunger or a plumbing snake (augur). Although it’s tempting to pour a liquid drain cleaner into the drain, this should be avoided at all costs. These types of cleaners contain caustic chemicals that can damage your plumbing pipes and make the problem worse in the medium to long term. For this reason, a local professional plumber will always prefer a manual removal method that does not use harsh chemicals. If the clog is persistent or hard to remove, you need to contact a plumber for expert help.

A common cause of clogs is a root intrusion into the drain line that runs under your yard to the property line of your home. The trees in and around your yard constantly search for sources of water and nutrition. If a root structure detects even a small leak from your drain line, it will grow towards it and intrude into the pipe over time. This will ultimately lead to a broken or collapsed pipe, and older pipes are vulnerable.

Unfortunately, all of these sewer backup issues are solely the responsibility of the homeowner. Even if you discover that a tree root intrusion has occurred from a tree that isn’t located on your property, you are still liable for those repairs to your drain line.

Sewer Lateral Pipes

These sewer pipes are located underground, and they connect your wastewater system to the main sewer line. As a homeowner, you are responsible for these later pipes, but it’s the city’s problem if the problem is located in the main sewer line in the street. There are two types of sewer lateral pipes; they are: upper and lateral.

The Upper Lateral Pipes: This is the part of the residential sewer system that runs out of your home and out the edge of your property line. This line typically terminates under the sidewalk or curb.

The Lower Lateral Pipes: This is the sewer line section that runs from the edge of your property line to the main public sewer line located under the street.

Many homeowners believe that the lower lateral sewer pipes are not their responsibility because they run beyond their property line. This is not true; in many cases, the homeowner is responsible for the maintenance and repair of their lower lateral pipe system. This is unfortunate because repairing this type of lateral pipe can be expensive because you may have to dig out into the sidewalk or street to fix it.

When is the City Responsible?

The city and municipality will only be responsible for any problem located in the public sewer main. As an example: If there are “fatbergs” or other clogs caused by waste in the main sanitary system, it’s the responsibility of the city to fix the problem. These main sewer lines are essential because this is how the collective waste of a neighborhood is removed from homes and businesses. A sewer line clog in these locations may affect multiple properties at the same time. Properties with basements tend to be affected most by a clog in the municipal sewer system. If you notice that your lower drains are slower or backing up into your home, it’s a good idea to contact your city or municipality. But, it’s important to realize that the city will only be responsible for the main clog; any clogs located along lines running out of the system are still the homeowner’s responsibility.

Will Home Insurance Cover Sewer Damage?   

This is hard to answer. There are a number of factors that can determine if the insurance company will cover this type of plumbing repair. Your specific home insurance policy will detail what is covered, and this will be the major factor when it comes to a sewer line repair. Wear and tear to home plumbing pipes isn’t usually covered by a home insurance policy. This means that a pipe break due to a lack of proper maintenance or aging pipes will not be covered. But, if the break or clog has occurred due to bad workmanship, faulty new pipes, or damage from an external source, you may have a valid claim. If the replacement or repair of a plumbing pipe is covered, you may have coverage for any damage caused to your damaged personal items and any structural damage caused.

Prevention is Better Than the Cure

This old adage holds true for many aspects of life, and it’s very pertinent when it comes to your plumbing system. Scheduling a regular video camera inspection and maintenance for your plumbing pipes and drain lines makes good sense. Potential problems can be identified at an earlier stage when they are easier and less expensive to fix. It’s also a great idea to avoid flushing items that can clog your drain and make sure everyone else in the home is following the same protocols.

If you have a persistent clog or you need to schedule some plumbing maintenance, contact your local certified plumber today.