sewer repair and homeowner liability: what you need to knowWho is responsible for sewer problems? You or the city? If you’re reading this, you’re probably crossing your fingers hoping that your issue is the responsibility of the city. Afterall, sewer issues can be expensive to handle and can continue to cause property damage until they’re resolved. The answer should be fairly clear to any plumber who is looking at your sewer issue and knows the local regulations around them. We’ll explain what you need to know.

How to Determine Who Is Responsible

In general, you are responsible for your portion of the sewer line and any repair or replacement it might need. The city is responsible for its portion. The only thing to determine is which part of the line is yours and which part of the line is the city’s. This varies by city and sometimes even on different properties in the same city, depending on what the rules were when the property was purchased or for different kinds of property.

The rules could be:

  • You are responsible for any sewer before the drain cleanout/sewer access point and the city is responsible for everything after this.
  • You are responsible for any pipe on your property. The moment it is in city property, the city is responsible for the pipe.
  • You are responsible for all of the sewer up until a sewer main, which could be defined as a pipe with a 12-inch or more diameter.

The rules are different in various California cities and within Tracy. Ultimately, your plumber can tell you which local rules apply to your situation. Then, they can determine if the problem is in your part of the sewer or the city’s part of the sewer.

What If It Is the City’s Fault?

When you have a problem in your plumbing lines or your portion of the sewer line, but you believe it is the city’s fault, you’re in a challenging position. Consider Tom Burns, who is suing the right of Los Altos for more than one million dollars over plumbing damage he argues the city caused to his home. His argument is that the city’s lack of proper maintenance and failure to resolve tree root growth in their portion of the sewer caused his home to be overflowed with more than 36,000 gallons of sewage. While he is making the argument, it will be up to the courts to decide if the city should be held responsible for the costs of cleaning out his home and repairing the sewer.

Your plumber should be able to tell you if they suspect that an issue the city caused is having an impact on your sewer and whether it could be responsible for your problems. You can appeal to the city to have the issue resolved and your plumber can support it. However, if the city refuses, you may have to go ahead with the repairs and then sue the city for the money. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that you will succeed.