Plumbing clogs responsibility of tenant

23 Replies

Hello BP,

Does anyone put in their leases that the tenant is responsible for clogged drain lines? If the lines are clear when they move in I feel it would save a lot of headaches with them calling me. I would have them call a plumber on their own. Now if a sewer line was backed up, I think that would be on me, but a slow draining tub because you let your hair build up in it....why not have the tenant take care of it. The neighborhoods I am renting in I would classify as C+/B-.

My lease states that the tenant is responsible for any clogs they cause. I always clear it the first time for free, that way the tenant can't claim it was caused or contributed to by a previous tenant.  After that I will have the drain cleared and if it's found to be caused by the tenant (flushing things, pouring grease down the drain, etc) then the tenant gets a bill.  If it's roots, a pipe issue, or anything else that's on my end I will pay the bill. 

If you tell the tenants that it's their fault and they need to handle getting it fixed you'll be amazed at the stupid stuff people do to avoid paying a professional.  I tried this approach once and the tenant went under the house and disconnected the toilet drain line so the toilet would flush directly onto the ground below the house to save the $70 my plumber would have charged to clear the line. 

I just started to add clauses regarding freezing pipes and clogged drain lines.  I self-manage and self-repair 90% of problems.  Would be different if a PM is sending over a plumber at $80/hr or whatever. If it's a simple clog in the lav or tub, I just go take care of it, usually with a little $3 zip line thing.  Gives me a chance to see the unit and interact with the resident anyway.  With sewer lines on a single-family I have had the tenant share the bill if the clogging culprit is their fault (a t-shirt, feminine stuff, baby wipes).  With multi's we don't know whose fault directly, so reminder memos go out to everyone about what not to flush and that these extra repairs are considered at rent-raise assessment time.   

Clogs caused by them yes. Now if you have a plumbing defect (say  weak flushing toilet) then I would fix the problem not the effects of it. 

@Paul Ewing  , I think so, yes!  I bought some for my on-site folks and repairman friends, too.  They can get stuck when you go to pull them out so I pull the lav stopper rods and snake carefully around the tub drain.  Better than pulling the tub overflow cap and snaking down like the old days!

Here are examples from our lease:

"DRAIN STOPPAGES.  As of the date of this Agreement, Landlord warrants that the dwelling’s sewage drains are in good working order and that they will accept the normal household waste for which they were designed. They will not accept things such as paper diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, children’s toys, wads of toilet paper, balls of hair, grease, oil, table scraps, clothing, rags, sand, dirt, rocks, or newspapers. Tenant agrees to pay for clearing the drains of any and all stoppages except those, which the plumber who is called to clear the stoppage will attest to in writing, were caused by defective plumbing, tree roots, or a result of weather.  Tenant agrees to keep on hand and properly use a plunger when necessary to unclog drains and prevent water overflow from toilet, sinks and bathtub."

"DRAIN CLEANING PRODUCTS.  Tenant agrees not to use caustic drain cleaning chemicals in any of the drains or plumbing fixtures.  Such products may cause damage to the plumbing system and may be hazardous to the environment.  Tenant may be able to keep drains clean and clear with regular maintenance by pouring down the drain a quarter cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar.  If there is a minor clog in the p-trap (the curved portion) of the pipe under the sink, Tenant may disconnect the pipe, clear the pipe manually, and reconnect the pipe to clear the clog or may call Landlord for assistance."

"FREEZING PIPES.  Tenant agrees to take due precaution against freezing water or waste pipes and stoppage of same in and about said premises.  This includes, but is not limited to disconnecting all garden hoses from outdoor faucets prior to freezing weather and opening cabinets under fixtures that are adjacent to outside walls to allow warm air circulation near water and waste pipes.  If water or waste pipes are frozen Tenant will notify Landlord immediately and in writing.  If Tenant did not take due precaution to prevent the freezing or fails to notify Landlord of the problem in a timely manner, Tenant will be held liable for all damage caused thereby." 

"REPAIRS.  Tenant agrees to notify Landlord of needed repairs to premises in a timely manner by telephone and/or in writing.  Tenant agrees not to repair their dwelling or anything belonging to Landlord without prior written consent of Landlord.  Landlord retains the right to determine how and when the repair will be done, in accordance with federal, state, and local law and codes.  If the need for repair is not due to damage caused by Tenant and/or their guests, Landlord agrees to pay for the repair.  If the need for repair is a result of damage done by Tenant and/or their guests, and not that of ordinary wear and tear, Tenant agrees to pay for the repair.   Landlord may decide to remove or replace an item, instead of repair."

I added a part in my lease that tells the tenant not to flush "flushable" wipes. Had a tenant with a big backup and the plumber snaked out a massive amounts of them. Apparently they're wreaking havoc in plumbing systems everywhere.

Marcia I like your lease clauses about protecting the plumbing. One thing though, tenants don't care if they damage your plumbing or the environment as long as they don't get busted for it. Caustic drain cleaners will leave a telltale mark in an aluminum sink, if your tenants know that they'll think twice about using it.

btw, dumbest tenant I ever had was a college kid I was renting a room to when I was in college. He flushed a banana peel down the toilet, was surprised when it clogged. "But it's biodegradable!"

It's amazing what people put down the drain.

What is even more amazing is sometimes the disregards.

One time I had a kitchen sink back up and I went to investigate.  Now in my lease I also had language to not use any Draino or related products because my DWV system consist of copper drains and cast iron stacks.

So I put a bucket inside the sink cabinet right below the p-trap, and I started to loosen the slip but to take it apart, and I just had to make sure so I asked the tenant..."you didn't put any Draino down there did you?"  He said "no, why?" I said "because if you poured that down the sink it's inside the pipe and when I take this apart it will burn my hands" and he said "no I knew better".  I went back to my car to get an extra rag and along the way I walked past their kitchen garbage can.  Inside the garbage can right on top is an empty bottle of Draino.

Question: How long does it take for a drain to clog with grease? My tenant lived at the home for over a year and i had to call a service to snake the drain twice after her year lease due to grease build up (and feminine products but they didnt write that on the receipt so now i dont have proof). I asked the tenant to clean up the mess bc she knew it was her fault, but now wont admit it, and she said she would. A few months later, she calls and asks to have the drain snaked again to reassure that the problem was fixed before she put in a washer and dryer. Mind you, she said reassure... Then she said that the drain keeps clogging... Which was news to me. Then proceeded to send me old pictures of what the mess looked like the last time i had them drained. She wanted us to pay for it, but she didnt want us to come and look at it at all. I told her it would be her responsibility to pay for that because she wouldnt let us see the problem and she agreed to get it fixed or to get "reassurance"Well, 4 months later, her new lease is up and i go to the basement. There is a blue tarp covering the doorway to the washroom and nothing but white furry mold, human feces, and toilet paper all over the floor. I am about to take action because she is being very difficult and will not clean up or pay to get it cleaned. I know that is negligence on her part. (she never cleaned up the mess from the previous clog like she said she did). I should have checked on it but she was a friend. So, another question, to get a settlement in court from her, do i need to pay a professional to clean or can i do it myself and buy the tools and she can reimburse me? 

@Kyle Civittolo Just had myself a wonderful plumbing clog this weekend. We went ahead & ate the cost of this one as it's a multi unit building. No real way to prove out who did it even though we have a very strong inclination of the appropriate party. All part of the fun that is the Property Management business.

Originally posted by @Andrea M. :

@Steve Vaughan Do you have a copy of the memo you send out that you could share? Thanks!

 It basically says, Hey! When in doubt, leave it out. No flushing feminine products, baby wipes, make-up removal pads, paper towels or even Charmin. There is no such thing as a flushable wipe. No grease down the sink, either.

Expect to be billed next time these items are found by the rooter people.

Appreciate folks posting wording of clauses. This year one of my goals (after punting 2 tenants in a 4 month window) is to tighten up screening as well as my paperwork.

Great tips on this thread. Thanks for sharing your lease language Marcia!

@Marcia Maynard  

thank you very much for providing these clauses.  I would love to see how you present the rest of your lease.  Please message me. Thank you.