This is one of the most common sources of frustration for landlords: tenants who call for clogged toilets repeatedly.
How do you deal with this and who is really responsible for paying the bill? The landlord or the tenant?
There isn’t a clear answer to this question because each situation is different, but as a general rule if the cloggs are due to the tenant’s fault or negligence, for example tenants flushing tampons or dropping toys, this is their responsibility. If however the sewer overflows because a tree root is pressing the water line or the pipes are just rusted, then this is the landlord’s responsibility.
It’s a good idea to add language to your lease clearly explaining that the tenants will be changed for repair of any sewage and drain blockages unless they are caused by faulty plumbing parts or tree roots.
But sometimes things are not that clear cut.
Who is Responsible When Two or More Properties Are on the Same Sewer Line
This is a tough one. I had personal experience with this. Three properties were on the same sewer and the stoppage was in the main line. The pipes were old iron pipes and extremely rusted inside so they caught everything that was flushed that did not not belong.
I repaired the plumbing once and sent a warning to all three tenants that we just had the line cleared and they will be responsible for any additional stoppages.
We did have one more incident. I asked the plumber to let me know what he got out of the line. It was baby wipes. This was an easy one because we had only one tenant with a baby.
I added the change to my tenant’s bill and because my lease says that those changes are treated as additional rent, it was easy to collect.
Who is Responsible if The Property is a Condo
Before calling a plumber, make sure that the condo or the townhome HOA is not responsible for the plumbing stoppages beyond the condo walls, some are. Call the property management company responsible and ask them. If it’s their responsibility, they will call their plumber and pay for the repair.
If the stoppage is within the condo or townhome walls then it’s up to you to repair it. If the tenant is at fault then they will have to pay for it.
This is something you should find out after you buy the property and before renting it. Who is responsible for plumbing repairs and how do you stop the water. You may also ask who is their plumber because some plumbers may not be able to find how to stop the water. It has happened to me and it’s very frustrating especially if you have an emergency.
What if The Property is on Septic
If all toilets are overflowing, call a plumber who deals with septic tanks immediately. Deal with the overflowing situation ASAP. Toilets on septic can overflow for many reasons and sometimes the plumbers are not in agreement why. If you had your tank pumped in the last two years, then there may be a problem with the drainfield, or it’s a result of a heavy rain.
Maintaining your septic tank involves much more than not flushing napkins and diapers.
Your tank fauna can be damaged by flushing food scraps, coffee grinds, grease, oil, drain cleaners, bleach, and more.
It is also very difficult to prove that the tenant is responsible. So the best solution in this situation is to educate them before they move in. You may even want to consider removing the garbage disposal.
Because this happens so often, and it’s expensive to fix, some landlords add a plumbing addendum explaining maintenance and responsibilities for each party.
Who Should Clean Raw Sewage Overflow?
I recently saw a photo, thankfully not one of my properties with sewage almost one foot deep. Hopefully you will never have to see this but if it does happen and it’s a lot, septic companies can pump it out and then you should call a company that deals with sewage clean up. This really depends on the severity of the spillage. If the tenant is responsible for this, then they should pay for it.
When is a Clogged Toilet an Emergency?
If the property has only one toilet and it’s clogged, it should be treated as an emergency.
If all the toilets in the properties are clogged and overflowing, it’s definitely an emergency. This means that the main line is blocked.
But what if only one toilet is clogged? If the tenants have other toilets they can use, it’s not an emergency.
This should be clearly spelled out in your welcome letter to the tenants and you should go over what is an emergency and what is not.
I also suggest preparing a tenant maintenance kit which should include a sink plunger and a toilet plunger. This will lower the number of maintenance calls dramatically.
Here is a list of what should go into your kit.
- Garbage Disposal wrench
- Clog removal tool
- 12 AC Filters
- Sink plunger
- Toilet plunger
- Cleaning vinegar for AC drains
- Long pole to replace light bulbs (for high ceilings)
Prevention and clearly articulating the rules and responsibilities of tenants is a lot less expensive and less stressful than trying to deal with repairs as they arise.
When tenants understand the rules and the consequences of not following them, they will not be surprised when you charge them for repairs because you already set the right expectations.