Reuben Saltzman

The lateral sewer lines are YOUR responsibility, not the city’s

This is a re-blog, courtesy of San Diego Home Inspector Russell Ray.  Great information.

The lateral sewer lines are YOUR responsibility, not the city’s

I received an email this morning from a person who bought a home in California a month ago and is now having problems with the sewer line. He had a home inspection which didn’t reveal any sewer problems, but after a month he noticed that drainage from the bathtub and shower was very slow. A video scan by a plumber found roots in the main line.

A call to his home warranty company indicated that they don’t cover roots in the sewer lines. The previous owner flipped the house, so since he never lived in it, there were no disclosures about any sewer problems. The plumber quoted about $10,000 to correct the problem, although the type of correction was not indicated.

This situation is all too common because most home inspectors don’t advise their Clients that the lateral sewer lines are their responsibility, and too many home inspectors do not “inspect” the trees growing on the property unless they are overhanging the roof or chimney.

It’s going to be difficult to prove that someone else knew about the problem, especially since the house was flipped, but I think he might also have a plumber who needs some money with that $10,000 quote to fix the problem. To me, it sounds like he probably has cast iron lateral sewer lines that the plumber wants to totally replace. In today’s world, that’s probably not necessary. It’s possible now to simply remove the roots and repair the area of damage with an interior lining.

At some point, though, he might need to remove the tree, although I asked him if he knew the tree species or had a picture of the tree. With either of those, I can give him further guidance on whether or not the tree really needs to be removed. Trees add quite a bit of value to a property, so we don’t want to remove it unnecessarily.

He might still need to replace the lateral sewer lines depending on whether or not more damage is found past the area where the roots were found. The video scan probably won’t be able to see past that area of roots until they are removed.

I advise my Clients to get three quotes on all work, but in this economy you might find that everyone you get a quote from wants to make as much money as possible, regardless of whether or not the work needs to be done, so be careful. Find trustworthy plumbers via Angie’s List, Done Right, or the BBB.

I know that some real estate agents advise their selling clients to run Drano or Liquid Plummer through all the toilets, bathtubs, showers, and sinks before the home inspector gets there. It’s not that they are trying to cover up things; it’s that they simply want to present the home in the best way possible. By the time the home inspector gets there, enough time has not passed to allow any root problems to manifest themselves again.

If you are a buyer or a buyer’s representative of an existing home, especially an older one built more than 25 years ago, you can’t go wrong with a video scan of the lateral sewer lines, and if your property has a lot of big trees, that video scan is worthwhile regardless of when your home was built.

The lateral sewer lines are YOUR responsibility, not the city’s. They are expensive to replace, and many home warranties don’t cover them because they are concealed. Even though you might get a home inspection by the best home inspector in your area, if you have any concerns about the sewer system, go ahead and pay a plumber to do a video scan of the lateral sewer lines.


Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


No responses to “The lateral sewer lines are YOUR responsibility, not the city’s”

  1. Greg
    July 31, 2012, 10:16 pm

    Actually, the responsibility of lateral sewer lines vary by city. Sunnyvale, which resides in the heart of the silicon valley, will handle any lateral cleanout. In fact, the city of Sunnyvale specifically requests their residents to always call them first for any type of residential pipe back up. In other cities, such as Chula Vista and San Diego city, root issues caused by city trees will be payed for by the city. Burbank has a policy called SLURP, which reimburses their residents for cleanouts and repairs caused by city trees. Unfortunately, there are other cities, such as Carlsbad, that specifically mention that the state of California has requested each city to take a more active approach with lateral lines, resulting in their decision to have nothing to do with them.

  2. moore
    October 25, 2012, 5:21 am

    I have been having problem with my sewer. I have a drain water ditch in the back of my house also, Both pipes burst at same time. However, sewer department stated that there pipes only had a separartion. It did not burst. drain water dept came out supposely repaired their pipes. I was told, they ceriform the pipes. A smell was coming from the sinking hole. The construction company who perform the work stated that the pipes was deteriorated. I have been having this issue since i moved in 15 ago, on and off. Please, give me some advice.

  3. Reuben Saltzman
    October 30, 2012, 3:53 am

    Moore – I recommend you hire a plumber to come out and fix the issue.

  4. Carol
    February 20, 2013, 8:02 pm

    I live in a rural town in central ky. My home was built in 1958. There is huge maple tree in my front yard next to my sewer line. The roots of the tree have, over time penetrated the old sectional pipe. I had the pipe up to the main connection and we found that the main connection needed to be replaced due to large roots in the pipe. The city takes no responsibility for this even though the connection is in the street. I’m out 3000 bucks possibly for just the main connection. I have a great plumber. the line from my house was within my budget, but the main connection is going to stress me financially. I always heard that once it is in the street it is the city’s responsibility, but no dice in this city, evidently. The plumber told me he has appealed this on numerous occasions for other homeowners with no luck. Should I protest to the city to reimburse me? where do I find out the documentation for the cities responsibility?

  5. Reuben Saltzman
    February 21, 2013, 4:46 am

    Hi Carol, in my area the connection point between the lateral sewer line and the city sewer is the homeowner’s responsibility, even though it’s in the street. As far as I know, this is standard. I don’t think you would get anywhere protesting to the city to reimburse you.

  6. Debra Wilson
    March 6, 2013, 4:43 pm

    We are having sewer issues – we are on the north side of a east and west street – our laterals up to the street are new (2 Years) and clear – looks like the problem might be the connect or under the street – the main is not under the street it is on the south side – The city is telling us that we have to pay to dig up the whole line all the way under the street if necessary- and that they are only responsible for the main – that after we dig up the street then we will be responsible for fixing it too.
    How would this be possible? We don’t own that street – I think I should suggest that if the sewer line is ours we would like to block off the street – and lay our sewer line on top of it for easier access if it ever happens again.

  7. J
    April 2, 2013, 3:33 pm

    Please do not merely take the advice on this website and assume responsibility for the sewer laterals. Look at your county and city code. My county told me that I was responsible for my lateral line under the street. I looked and the county code and this is cleary NOT the case in my county. Other counties may be different. My advice is to look at the county ordinances.

  8. Dan
    August 21, 2013, 11:16 am

    I have owned my house about 3 years and sometimes the sewer would back up a little in the basement. I thought it was because of rain or just the area and I didn’t want to pay for a plummer to come out.
    But 1 day it backed up more than I had seen before and decided to call a plummer. Turns out there was a collapsed liner. It appears it was put in by the previous owner but passed by the city inspector. Does the city have a responsibility to pay for the repair?

  9. Reuben Saltzman
    August 21, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Hi Dan,

    No, the city is not responsible for failed / improper installations.

  10. Jerry Sowers
    September 21, 2013, 12:40 pm

    I have a piece of property with a garage on it about 3 feet off of road . I had a sewer tap and my plumber camed the line and informed me that at some point when the new storm water line were put in my sewer line was cut off ! who is responsible for replacing this line from my tap to main ?

  11. Reuben Saltzman
    September 21, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Hi Jerry, I would guess the municipality is responsible, but I’ve never had to get involved in a situation like that.

  12. Diane
    October 26, 2013, 12:21 am

    We received a notice from the City of San Diego suggesting us to purchase warranty for our water & sewer lines. I want to have this coverage for peace of mind, but my husband refused saying that we are only responsible for the part that lies on our property line, not under the sidewalk or the road in front of our house. Is he correct? Is Service Line Warranties of America a good company?

  13. Reuben Saltzman
    October 26, 2013, 3:56 am

    Diane – I’ve never heard of a warranty for a sewer line, much less “Service Line Warranties of America”.

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