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Sewer line backups and replacements are plumbing nightmares that can be both tedious and expensive. Homeowners are obviously responsible for their own residential plumbing, such as a clogged sink drain. However, what about problems with the sewer system past your property line or problems with a sewer line from the house to the street? Basically, you want to know, when is the city responsible for sewer lines and plumbing repair?

There are some cases where the city or municipality will be held responsible for fixing, while others will leave the homeowner responsible. 

When is the City Responsible for Plumbing Issues? 

Sewer backups usually bring in hefty price tags that homeowners would prefer to have the city pay. However, more likely than not, the city is not held responsible for plumbing repairs on residential property

Sewer Backups and City Responsibility

When the sewer system clogs and forces itself back into homes, it’s never a pretty situation. Most sewer backups are the result of clogged pipes. The combination of grease, soap scum, toilet paper, hair, and products advertised as “flushable” (such as flushable wipes) are common causes of sewer backups. 

Some sewer backups can be treated with a plunger or bottle of drain cleaner, while others are more serious and require professional help. Problems with the main sewer line are serious and need more than a DIY fix. Additionally, tree roots can also be liable for annoying sewer backups. As trees grow, their roots can penetrate sewer lines and lead to clogging and expensive replacements. Eventually, this can lead to collapsed pipes, though pipes can also collapse due to being made of aged materials, such as clay and Orangeburg pipes.   

Unfortunately, these sewer backups are not the city’s responsibility. You, as the homeowner, will have to take care of them. Even if your pipes are clogged by roots from trees off your property, you will still be held liable for the repairs.  

Causes of Sewer Backups

  • Aging sewer infrastructure: The Sacramento sewer system is on the older side and new homes are added to it all the time. When it has trouble keeping up with demand backups and overflows can happen.
  • Tree roots: Where there is moisture, there is tree roots. Clay pipes are especially vulnerable to damage caused by tree roots.
  • Issues with combined sewers: Combined sewers handle both stormwater and sewage. They work fine until they’re faced with an increased amount of stormwater. When this happens, the heavy load on the individual branches can cause sewage to back up.  
  • City sanitary main blockage: A blockage somewhere in the sanitary main can cause sewage to enter your home via floor drains. If the leak is small, contact a sewer line repair contractor. If the sewage is rushing into your home, contact the city or municipality as soon as possible. 

What About Upper and Lower Lateral Pipes? 

Sewer laterals are the underground pipes that connect your home wastewater to the main sewer line in the street. Homeowners are responsible for their sewer laterals, while problems with the public sewer main line are managed by the city or municipality.

There are two types of sewer laterals: upper laterals and lower laterals. The upper lateral is part of the residential sewer system that runs from your home to the property line, which is usually the curb or sidewalk. The lower lateral is the section of residential plumbing that runs from the property line to the public sewer main line in the street.

Many homeowners assume that lower lateral piping is not their responsibility since they run past their property line. This is not the case. In most situations, it is the residential property owner who must maintain and repair the lower lateral piping. Lower lateral repairs can carry a higher price tag than other plumbing fixes since they may involve digging into the street or sidewalk. 

How to Prevent Backups in Your Sewer Line

sewer repair

Here are some helpful tips to prevent costly and time-consuming repairs to your sewer lines.

  • Keep your sewer lines clear of tree roots: If your property has older trees with deep roots that reach your pipes, you’ll need to contact a sewer repair contractor from time to time to get rid of them.
  • Line or replace old pipes: If you’re having root problems, either structural pipe lining or replacing your sewer line with HDPE pipe will prevent tree roots from getting inside.
  • Only flush toilet paper: Even most products that say they’re flushable could cause a toilet clog.
  • Install a sewer backflow valve: A backflow valve will help prevent wastewater from entering your house due to heavy rainfall, blockages, or simply insufficient capacity caused by increased construction.
  • Don’t put grease down the drain: Grease solidifies inside your pipes and will eventually start to build up and clog. When you're done cooking, place the oil in a container, not down the drain.

So, When is the City Responsible for Sewer Lines?

Cities and municipalities will be held accountable for problems with the public sewer main. For instance, if there are main blockages to the city sanitary system - such as fatbergs  - then these repairs will be the responsibility of the city. The main sewer lines carry waste away from homes and businesses and can cause a sewer backup with relative ease due to clogs. Homes with basements will likely experience sewer backups as a result of a clogged municipal sewer system due to lower drains. If this happens, you will have to call your local city or municipality. 

Although the city will be accountable for problems starting at the main underground sewer pipe, homeowners are responsible for plumbing repairs for the pipes running to the main line.  

Does Insurance Coverage Include Sewer Damage?

So, if that lower lateral plumbing repair isn’t being paid for by the city, will your insurance cover the costs? The answer depends. A variety of factors will affect whether or not your homeowner’s insurance coverage will pay for the repairs costs. 

Although insurance policies differ in what they will choose to cover or not, a major determining role in cost coverage is the cause of the broken pipe or sewer problem. Wear and tear aren’t typically covered by homeowners insurance. So, if a pipe breaks because of a lack of maintenance, then your insurance won’t cover it. Your insurance will likely cover damage caused by faulty workmanship, an accident, or an act of vandalism.

If your homeowner's insurance covers the replacement or the repair of the pipe itself, it may also cover the cost of some of the damages to the structure and personal property. However, this will be determined by the specific insurance coverage you have. 

How A Video Inspection Can Help Maintain your Pipes

Since most plumbing issues are the responsibility of the homeowner, it’s especially important to maintain your pipes and plumbing so as to avoid paying for expensive repairs. One of the best things you can do to limit the costs of repairs to broken pipes and sewer backups is to regularly check your home’s sewer & drain pipes for signs of damage. Signs that you may have a sewer problem on your hands include slow drains, sewer overflows and backups, foul odors, and wet patches in your yard. 

Finding and fixing a problem early can help save money and other resources. It can also help prevent a plumbing issue from being listed as just “wear and tear” that can be rejected by your insurance coverage—if you document your repairs, of course. 

Video inspections of your pipes allow plumbers to see exactly what’s wrong, where leaks are located, and the potential causes of the issue. This allows plumbers to make better decisions regarding how to fix the problem so it stays fixed and costs you less money in the long run. Even you can see the visual inspection for yourself so you know that the repairs the plumber uses are the ones that are needed. This makes video inspections one of the best technologies to use for efficient pipe maintenance and sewer repair. 

Call an Expert When You Need Sewer Line Repair

So, if you are a homeowner and experiencing plumbing troubles or just want to take precautions with your pipes, call an expert at Express Sewer & Drain in Sacramento and request a fast sewer & drain video inspection today!

Free Video Drain Inspection

Topics: Plumbing in Sacramento, Commercial Plumbing, Municipal Plumbing, Home Plumbing