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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Default Easements and Sewer Line Repair Responsibility

    My question involves an easement in the state of: Washington

    I have a sewer easement on my property comprised of "The West 20 feet of Grantor's described real property", PURPOSE: The purpose of the easement shall be to provide for the construction, maintenance, use, operation, repair, and replacement of sewer lines to benefit Grantees' described property. DURATION AND USE: “The Easement shall be perpetual and non-exclusive. After any use of the easement to maintain, service, or repair the easement, Grantees agree to return the property on and around the easement to its original condition to Grantor’s satisfaction, if said property is disturbed in any way by Grantees’ use of the easement. Said easement shall include the right of ingress and egress to, upon and over said land at all times to construct, maintain, operate, repair, replace, erect and/or construct said sewer lines.”

    My issue and question: twice I have repaired, at my own labor and expense, open leakage of the neighbor's sewer line on my property. The first time, open gushing of raw sewage was discovered by city workers assessing the city sewers for possible replacement in the near future (ironically enough). It appeared that the removal of trees above that section of the neighbor's sewer line on my property damaged/broke a four-foot section of the sewer line, causing the open drainage of raw sewage down the hill. I dug up and replaced a four-foot section of PVC sewer pipe myself; my neighbor saw me working on it (late into a winter night, in the rain, with flashlights... standing knee deep in his household's raw sewage...), and declined to help because of a bad back. (We are on very good terms as neighbors; he does have a bad back, and offered help and money, which I declined; the actual expense was probably only about $40 total). The second occurrence was at the other end of my property very recently. I had noticed the unmistakable smell of raw sewage, again, and found a cleanout I never knew existed in the midst of some large rhododendron bushes, standing up about four feet above the ground; apparently the cap had been “blown” right off, and raw sewage was gushing out, flowing downhill towards my back neighbors. I rented a “roto-rooter” machine from Home Depot (which I do once every year or two to clear my sewer lines of roots). I removed quite a few roots from the sewer line, going in through a different cleanout, higher up the bank (the cleanout I have always used, since I did not know about this other, tall cleanout further down). Note: sewage from my household was never impeded from either of these episodes; only my neighbor’s. After clearing lots of roots, the raw sewage in the 4-ft-high cleanout further down still remained, right up to the top, curiously enough. I ran water into the higher cleanout to test, and the water flowed freely (as it had even prior to me starting to “roto-root” with the machine). Finally, and VERY reluctanctly, I moved the “roto-rooter” machine down (precariously) next to the 4-foot-high vertical cleanout, the cap of which had been blown off, and which was the source of the raw sewage flow… and inserted the “snake” into the sewage-filled cleanout. I ran the snake its full 100 feet, but it apparently (from the sound of it traveling underground) went DOWNhill instead of uphill towards my neighbor’s house. I ran the full length three times, and it did not “find” or clear the blockage from the 4-ft standpipe – the raw sewage still “stood” up to the very top of the pipe (and obviously gushed out as I roto-rooted, and as the neighbors flushed…). The fourth “run” of the snake, I managed to make it turn UP-hill (which wasn’t easy because of the way the junctions of PVC sewer pipe are made, with a curve or an angle going more smoothly in one direction). I was able to get the snake to go “against” the curve, and uphill. Almost immediately, the snake “found” the blockage, and the sewage dropped down the 4-foot standpipe. I ran the snake the full 100 feet twice, “up” this direction, just to make sure. I then opened a cleanout further “upstream” towards my neighbors house (which cleanout I had installed “just for fun” when I repaired the 4-foot section that had been broken before by the tree removal guys). I ran copious amounts of water from that cleanout downhill, and all sewer pipes were now clear. (Again, my own household’s sewage flow was never impeded from these two incidents.)
    I went over to my neighbor’s house to tell him about the incident (covered in raw sewage :-) and to ask if his 16-year-old son could help me pull the “roto-rooter” machine back up the hill (he wasn’t home, so I devised a pulley system to help get the heavy machine back uphill). I incurred about $75 expense for the rental of the machine, and about 6 hours of very hard (and dirty) labor. (Home Depot threw in a pair of leather gloves for free… didn’t ask for them back).

    I am not seeking any damages or repayment from either of these episodes, but for future reference I would really like to know whose responsibility these repairs are. I am guessing that the first incident (damage caused by felling trees above the shallow [18’ deep] neighbor’s sewer line running across the easement on my property] was the tree removal company’s “fault”, and I could “go after” them. But in the bigger picture, I guess my main question is: Is my neighbor responsible for either of these incidents (responsible for the repairs), or similar incidents in the future? I am 100 percent convinced that not one inch of my household’s sewer line was involved in either of these incidents. The raw sewage was flowing on my property, but the sewage was from my neighbor’s line, coming only from his house. I just want to know, if anything like this happens in the future, who is responsible. In spite of the fact that I am on good terms with my neighbor, I believe that I will let him know, in the future, that he is responsible for the repairs… I did it twice, it’s “his turn”.

    Thank you in advance for your input.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Easements and Sewer Line Repair Responsibility

    Svincent, most of the responders on this segment of the forum are more attuned to property boundary line issues and rights to property, written and otherwise. Your post is more about liability and responsibility. You might have better luck getting a response in a section of the forum more focused on those issues, not in real estate law.

    I wish I had you for a neighbor!

    Stephen Calder (Land Surveyor, not a Lawyer)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2007

    Default Re: Easements and Sewer Line Repair Responsibility

    Well, what Stephen said.

    You are a good neighbor.

    But this is a true easement rights issue.

    I assume that your neighbor is the "grantee" in this instance.

    Your description of the situation seems rational and logical. If you no longer want to assume sole responsibility for the maintenance issues, I think that you have several options.

    From a plumbing standpoint, it is unfortunate that the sewage from the neighbor was able to blow out on your property, rather than back up on him.

    I think that you want to move the neighbor to a more reasonable state of relationship. My recommendation is that you have a good sit down chat with him as to what his responsibilities are under the easement agreement, and what you are willing to do in the future, which is to sue him for damages if he cannot uphold his contractual agreement. The easement language you have posted is very clear.

    Sewer dye is a good approach whenever there is any doubt as to where effluent originates. I would recommend that you have a few ounces of it on hand in case the problem arises again. If so, ask the neighbor to flush the stuff down one of his drains for a factual, verifiable evidence.

    It is never nice to find sewage when it is unexpected, and you shouldn't have to.

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