Ew! Do I Have To Fix That?

Sewer repairs are a homeowner's worst nightmare. In the best cases, problems with your sewer line mean that your toilets, showers, and other drains won't function properly until repaired. In the worst-case scenarios, you have a hazardous mess that can potentially cause serious damage to your home. Sewer problems can take on many forms, ranging from clogged and cracked to broken pipes. Many homeowners mistakenly believe that the sewer is entirely the city's responsibility. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Understanding why you are likely to be responsible for sewer failures requires understanding a bit about how most sewer systems work.

Common Sewer Layouts

The large sewer pipes that run underneath city streets and that most people think of when they hear the word "sewer" are referred to as sewer mains. These are owned by the city and it is generally a municipal problem when these lines clog or are otherwise damaged. Of course, a sewer system comprised entirely of sewer mains wouldn't do much good. Instead, additional lines are required to carry waste water from homes and businesses to the sewer main. These lines are commonly known as sewer laterals.

Sewer laterals can come in a few different forms, but in most cases, they are simply a sloped pipe which directs waste water from a source location out to the municipal sewer system. Most laterals will have at least one clean-out, which is essentially just an access pipe that allows plumbers to perform maintenance. Many laterals have two clean-outs, one located near the house and one located near the edge of the property line. Both clean-outs serve essentially the same purpose, they just allow a little more flexibility for accessing the lateral closer to the actual problem.

Why Won't the City Fix Your Lateral?

While sewer mains are definitely the responsibility of your city, sewer laterals generally are not. The majority of any sewer lateral will run under private property, and this makes it the responsibility of the homeowner in nearly every jurisdiction. This often comes as a surprise to many homeowners, who believe that any sewer problem falls on the city to fix. Even more surprisingly, you will usually be responsible for the portion of the lateral (sometimes called the "lower lateral") that runs under public property, such as sidewalks, as well.

This second fact can be especially surprising, but it is usually consistent with other municipal regulations. In most cases, homeowners are responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of their property, for example. Additionally, lateral problems almost always originate with issues at the property. While a clogged sewer main may be the result of problems caused by numerous houses or by lax city maintenance, a clogged or damaged lower lateral will generally be caused by the same issues as a clogged upper lateral.

Never Ignore Sewer Problems

Sewer problems can sometimes start off small, with drains running slowly or unusual smells. It is common for homeowners to ignore these problems, thinking that they are the responsibility of the city and that they will be resolved eventually. Instead, leaving sewer problems usually results in the issue becoming worse over time. Backed up sewers can cause serious damage to a house that may or may not be covered by homeowner's insurance. If you believe you may be in need of sewer repair services, call a plumber for an inspection as soon as possible.