Sewer blockages are a burden that just about every landlord, tenant, or property owner will have to deal with at some point. As a tenant though, you are subject to one main consideration that doesn’t apply to outright homeowners – “Who is responsible – you or the landlord?”
The answer is that it depends. But first, let’s start at the beginning.
What is a sewer blockage?
For those who don’t know, sewer blockages occur when some kind of obstruction occurs within the sewer line, preventing the flow of sewage away from your home. The sewerage works are designed to process and treat degradable waste only, meaning that anything that is not degradable that is disposed of down the toilet, sink, or drain can cause a blockage.
The most common blockages that restrict proper flow include dirt and debris from storm damage, plants or tree roots that have damaged the pipes, foreign objects (such as wet wipes and sanitary products), or a build-up of hair, fat or grease. In short, there are only two things that should be disposed of down the toilet – human waste, and toilet paper.
What are the signs of a sewer blockage?
The main ones to look out for are gurgling noises from your sinks and drains or drainage from your toilets and bathtub that is slower than normal. If you know where your sewer shaft is located, you can also unscrew this to check if it is full or overflowing (though if you feel any pressure when you are undoing the lid, stop immediately!).
Who is responsible for a sewer blockage?
Basically, a blocked sewer pipe can be the responsibility of either the property owner or wastewater authority such as Hunter Water, depending on where the blockage has occurred.
If the blockage is in the pipes or drains leading away from your property, or the storm network from your property boundary, it’s the wastewater authority business. A blockage in the main or branch sewer lines is usually signified by an overflowing or full sewer inspection shaft, so if the blockage has occurred here, we’ll contact them to get them to carry out the proper repair works.
If it’s in the pipes in, under, or around your home though, it’s down to you. And if you’re a rental tenant, it can be tricky to work out who’s responsible for the cost of repair. On one hand, it’s the landlord’s job to ensure that your house is safe and fit to live in, but on the other, it’s yours as the tenant to keep the property in good nick.
Diagram by Hunter Water
To be absolutely sure who’s footing the repairs, you need to have a licensed plumber visit your home to find out where your blockage is coming from and why.
As general advice though, in New South Wales, according to the Residential Tenancies Authority, it’s the landlord’s responsibility if the blockage was caused by the landlord, was nobody’s fault, or was the result of fair wear and tear (for example, in cases of age, storm damage, or plants or tree roots damaging the pipes). Conversely, it’s the tenant’s responsibility if the blockage was caused by the tenant, either by accident (such as the improper disposal of a foreign body or non-degradable material) or as a result of other damage (such as damage to the pipes caused by the tenant). This means the tenant will be responsible for the cost of removing the cause of the blockage and the repair of the resulting damage.
What do you do in case of a sewer blockage?
OK, so you have a blockage. Now what?
It’s important to get a blocked sewer line unblocked as quickly as possible, or it can turn into a disgusting and smelly public health issue. Drainage problems can cause a number of serious health issues, as they involve stagnant water that is the perfect breeding ground for a diverse range of nasty bacteria that can cause anything from typhoid to peptic ulcer disease. On the property side, blockages can also leak and cause mould and damage to the structure of the house.
Contact a licensed plumber to come and find out where the blockage is coming from, including whether it’s located in your house’s internal pipework or the waste water authority’s system.
Usually, a plumber will use a special CCTV camera to find the blockage, as well as to work out what is causing the clog. Based on this, they can provide you with specific advice in terms of who is responsible, and what you can do to fix it.
Need help with a blocked sewer in Newcastle?
Chris served several years in the Australian Defence Force and since leaving went on to complete his mature age apprenticeship in plumbing and having been in the industry for many years, has gained a wealth of knowledge in the plumbing industry.