When is the City Responsible for Sewer Lines?Who is Responsible for the Main Sewer Line?

Most homeowners assume the city is responsible for sewer lines near or past the public street, but that is seldom true. Property owners are responsible for upper and lower lateral lines that connect from their house to the city's sewer lines. The city is responsible for that connection and onto the city's sewer main and lines.

Unfortunately, property owners tend to learn this information too late, after receiving a bill for thousands of dollars for repairs. Knowing what you are and are not responsible for can help you save money in the long run.
 
Structure of Sewer Lines
Your toilets, showers, sinks, and so many appliances are connected to drain lines that lead outward to your main sewer line. The water and waste from the drain lines then move through three sections:

  • Upper Lateral Sewer Line
  • Lower Lateral Sewer Line
  • City's Main Sewer Line

The upper and lower pipes are also known as laterals because they connect to the city's sewer line laterally.

Who is Responsible for the Main Sewer Line?

Upper Lateral Sewer Line
The upper lateral line is the section that runs from your home to your property line, curb, or sidewalk. It then attaches to the lower lateral line. The property owner is responsible for the upper lateral line.

Lower Lateral Sewer Line
The lower lateral line, or private sewer line, is the section of the pipe that connects to your upper lateral line. It starts at your property line, curb, or sidewalk and ends at the connection to the city's main sewer pipe. The property owner is responsible for the lower lateral line.

City's Main Sewer Line
The property owner's lower lateral line connects to the city's sewer line. The city sewer main line runs from your lower lateral line under the public street beyond your property boundaries. It is a drain pipe that is usually 12 inches or larger.

That section is the public sewer main, and it leads to the city's sewer. The city is responsible for its lines, which carry wastewater and all local sewage.

City's Responsibility
The water or sewer department is typically responsible for the public sewer main.

However, you might still be liable if your pipes caused damage to the public sewer main. For instance, if your clogged lines lead to city sewer main issues, you might have to fix the problem. Otherwise, the city should cover any repairs for damage caused by them and maintenance.

Homeowner's Responsibility
You should be able to determine the specifics of where your lateral lines begin and end by checking with your utility company. Most city municipal codes require property owners to maintain, repair, and handle their sewer line replacements. That includes both the upper and lower lateral lines.

Do not attempt to do this yourself. Instead, hire a licensed plumber to avoid mistakes and avoid damage to the city's lines.

infomercial plumbing GIF

The city becomes responsible when damage occurs due to improper maintenance, installation, or repair work done by the city. Even if the city is responsible, though, it is not easy to prove. It is safest to assume that the homeowner is almost always responsible for any issues in the upper and lower laterals.
 
Potential Sewer Line Problems
Some common issues include:

●    Bellied, or sagging, sewer pipe

●    Blockages, especially from improper items getting flushed or old sewer systems

●    Corrosion of metal pipes

●    Misaligned pipes

●    Breaks and cracks in pipes and joints

●    Tree roots that automatically move toward sources of water

 
How to Prevent a Sewer Problem
You can prevent trouble in your lines by following these recommendations:

●    Get your sewer line inspected by a plumbing contractor every few years to catch potential issues early.

●    Don't pour cooking oil, paints, or other greases down your pipes.

●    Do not flush paper products. Be careful even with those labeled as "flushable."

●    Add a backwater prevention valve so that the water goes out but does not come back in.

●    Cut tree roots periodically.

●    Update your pipes. Consider replacing old pipes with plastic pipes.

●    Call a plumbing contractor at the first sign of trouble.

●    Correct improper systems and connections. A professional can point out any that are present.

If you ever must replace your sewer lines, we recommend using trenchless technology. This trenchless method of laying service lines allows future repairs without digging up your yard. Trenchless sewer lines are also roughly half the repair cost compared to traditional sewer pipe construction.

Will My Homeowners Insurance Cover My Responsibility?
Typically, homeowners insurance does not cover damage to sewer lines, except for damages caused by covered perils. The most common causes of sewer line damages are excluded. They include water backup, sewer backup, tree roots, insects, and corroded and rusty pipes. Because coverage is limited, most homeowners need additional coverage.
 
Sewer Line Insurance
Your standard home insurance policy can be customized to have sewer line insurance cover those things the standard policy excludes. It includes water backup coverage, sewer backup coverage, tree root damage, insect damage, and sewer line replacement and repair. It even covers wear and tear.

You would purchase it as an endorsement to your standard policy or as a separate policy by way of a floater.

For the best protection, investigate adding a service line insurance policy. It includes sewer repair and all utility lines, including sewer lines, gas lines, water lines, and more.

I hope that helps!

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At your service,
Young Alfred