Help me evict nightmare tenants who continue to clog plumbing

23 Replies

I’ve got nightmare tenants in my rental property. The septic keeps backing up into the basement shower. It took a month of doing multiple repairs to septic, laterals etc to figure out the problem. We started snagging wipes with the snake. We have told them to stop flushing any wipes (even if they say flushable). We’ve put over $1,000 into renting equipment, clean up, and new carpet, not to mention probably 40+ hours of labor and the travel time as the property is 45 minutes away. The problem has been fixed for almost a month and it happened again 2 days ago. Out the bathroom and all over the new carpet. When my husband went to the house he found an open package of baby wipes right next to the toilet upstairs. They didn’t pull any out with the snake this time but they did snag a lot of stuff that got pushed on through. So I guess we can’t prove it? We have owned this house for 13 years, we lived in it for 7 years and have never had any problems with this until these people moved in. The other problem is they have the unfinished portion of the basement filled with clothes. Some are in garbage bags and a ton of clothes are just spread out all over. I have no idea what’s going on but maybe she’s running a laundry business out of the house? (Which would be against the lease). I just can’t imagine what all the clothes are doing down there, we can hardly get to the drain next to the washer to work on the pipes. They are getting lent when they snake. So maybe the laundry is related to whatever keeps clogging the pipes. We really just need to get them out. There are holes in the bathroom door upstairs we just replaced when we remodeled the bathroom before they moved in, there are cigarettes everywhere in the yard, they pay their rent late every single month. *they always pay before their 3 day pay or quit is up So, how do I get them out? We are in the process of flipping a house but haven’t been able to touch it because we have to work on unclogging their drain every time my husband is off work. This is literally going to break us & we’re sinking fast. We can’t keep cleaning up their **** (literally), but I don’t know how to prove it’s their fault and how to evict them without proof. Help!
What kind of lease do you have with them? Are they violating any part of the lease? Does your local laws allow you to send a Notice to Cure letter?

I would guess they're running a laundry service and doing that much laundry is overwhelming the septic system.  The septic system may be weak to begin with.   Specifically, the leach field cannot perc fast enough for the amount of sewage being put into it, causing the back up.  Is this on a well or city water?  If its city water, find out how much water they're using and see how that compares to other similar properties and occupants.  Since this is a septic system house, it could be that the septic system has just failed.  They don't last forever.  Have you had it evaluated?

What does your lease say?  Mine has several provisions related to a case like this.  For one, I only do month to month.  So i would simply terminate the lease and then do a (relatively) simple eviction if they refuse to leave.  For another, I state that problem like this is the responsibility of the tenants.  After the first round of sewer cleaning, I would tell the tenants that if the sewer plugs up again it is because they are plugging it up and they will pay for any future unplugging.  Now, I would be sure that its not my problem.  I did have a house with repeated sewer problems and finally figured out the sewer line had failed and had to be replaced.  Finally, I have a clause that says money received is applied to charges like sewer cleaning first and rent last.  So, if they refuse to pay the cost to do the cleaning I would accept the rent, apply it to these costs, and then file for eviction for non-payment of rent.

To do an eviction you're going to need an attorney, unless you've already done enough of them to fully understand the process.  DIY'ing your first eviction is likely to cost you more money than hiring an attorney.

@Will Kirkendoll 's suggestion has merit.

@Jon_Holdman The septic tank was replaced 8 years ago and it was emptied in October.

lt is in the lease that they are responsible for repairs to plumbing if it is their fault or the fault of their children or guests. I want to bill them for repairs, but how do I prove fault? I guarantee they will not be able to pay for repairs and then come up with rent by the time their pay or quit is up. I’m also expecting they will be livid and we will end up with more holes in our walls. And they will just completely trash the house even more.

They are on rural water but I should be able to call and get past water usage since we are the home owners, I’ll try that tomorrow.

Cash for keys sounds like the best solution especially if you fear they will do more damage. Try offering them 1K for leaving. If that works, get it in writing but don't pay until they are gone and relinquished possession. 1K is a LOT cheaper than an eviction and not as combative a situation.

Bill them for the repairs. When asked to prove it tell them they have to prove its not their fault. They live there and the system didn't back itself up. It stipulates in the lease agreement that they are responsible for repairs. 

Then if you want you can offer them the option of just leaving and you will drop the whole thing. They will probably be happy to move on.  

The septic tank was replaced 8 years ago and it was emptied in October.

What about the leach field?   The tank itself only holds the sewage for a short time before it flows into the distribution piping into the leach field.   The tank catches solids (dirt, sand) which is why it has to be pumped out once in a while.  But it doesn't hold the sewage.  The sewage flows into the distribution lines and then seeps into the ground in the leach field.  If the system is properly designed for the load its experiencing the sewage will be able to seep (i.e, perc or percolate) into the ground in the leach field at a greater rate than sewage is being produced.  So then every time sewage flows into the take, some (very icky) water flows out of the tank into the leach field and then dissipates into the ground.

Even if the system is properly designed, if the load is higher than the design (i.e., someones running laundry all day every day) then the outflow from the tank doesn't perc into the ground fast enough and the sewer backs up.

Or, if a leach field is used long enough it may be clogged up.  Over time, fine particles fill the pore space in the soil.  A plot of land that used to perc just fine will perc much more slowly.  That reduces the capacity of the system.  Pumping the tank will only help for a short time.  When this happens, the leach field has to either be relocated or (if there's no space to relocate) dug up and fresh dirt put in.

Its also possible for the distribution lines to be clogged, such as with a lot of grease or fat.

My point of all of that is the tenants may not be at fault here.  But if you're had the system evaluated (perhaps as part of that replacement) and its in good shape, and the lines have been cleaned then you have your proof.  The system is good and its been recently cleaned so any clogs that happen now are caused by them.  Perhaps by overuse, perhaps by bad behavior (I hate those freaking "flushable" wipes.)  Send them a bill, provided your lease addresses this.  

The unfortunately reality of owning rentals is that every now and then you get some really big bills.  Either actual bills, like the six grand I spent replacing the sewer line, or economic bills in the form of lost rent and property damage.  You're now facing a situation like this.  You just have to grit your teeth and plow through it.

If they are running a laundry business they're probably advertising somewhere, I'd try Googling all of the phone numbers you have for them and seeing if anything comes up. 

What does you lease say? Is it M2M?

Step one.....get a full professional evaluation by a plumbing/septic company....document the cause....its worth the $$. It is possible that there is an issue that is not the fault of the tenant. Before you lay blame and start charging for damages, you need to be sure what the cause is.....not assuming or guessing..... you may be right....or you may go through hell evicting them and then the same issue happens with the next tenant.

You have some options. First, what is being pulled out that is clogging the pipe? If it is baby wipes,you can have a licensed plumber determine whether it is the fault of the plumbing or what is being placed into the system. After sending a certified notice that the tenant is clogging the system, it is now on them to cover the expenses. Also, I would install a grinder which reduces the size of the waste and helps prevent future clogs.

If you going the cash for keys route.....

get your numbers together and figure out how much they owe you first, present that to them. Then offer to come up w/ a agreement where the repairs are forgiven in exchange for them leaving, then if you have too cash. Let them name their price first...

Originally posted by @Carey Branam :

@Jon_Holdman The septic tank was replaced 8 years ago and it was emptied in October.

lt is in the lease that they are responsible for repairs to plumbing if it is their fault or the fault of their children or guests. I want to bill them for repairs, but how do I prove fault? I guarantee they will not be able to pay for repairs and then come up with rent by the time their pay or quit is up. I’m also expecting they will be livid and we will end up with more holes in our walls. And they will just completely trash the house even more.

They are on rural water but I should be able to call and get past water usage since we are the home owners, I’ll try that tomorrow.

You prove fault by hiring a 3rd party professional. Next time it clogs, call a sewer-snake guy who will take video of what he finds and will write up his opinion as a professional as to the cause. If it was anything but a system failure, its the tenant's fault and they will have to pay for the service call which is hopefully written into your lease "as additional rent". Let them clog it every week, and every week send out the service guy to fix it, and every week bill them for it. Around here I can get a main line snaked for under $150 with camera - no way that's worth your 45 minute drive each way and headache to do it yourself. Plus having a 3rd party opinion will help a ton if this ends up in court.

The tenants are of the attitude right now of, "Why the hell should I care, they'll just come fix it, call'em up honey," when they need to be thinking, "Damn, sewer is backed up, who the hell threw the wipes down the toilet again! Carey is going to freak out on us!"

Originally posted by @Carey Branam :
I’ve got nightmare tenants in my rental property. The septic keeps backing up into the basement shower. It took a month of doing multiple repairs to septic, laterals etc to figure out the problem. We started snagging wipes with the snake. We have told them to stop flushing any wipes (even if they say flushable). We’ve put over $1,000 into renting equipment, clean up, and new carpet, not to mention probably 40+ hours of labor and the travel time as the property is 45 minutes away. The problem has been fixed for almost a month and it happened again 2 days ago. Out the bathroom and all over the new carpet.

When my husband went to the house he found an open package of baby wipes right next to the toilet upstairs. They didn’t pull any out with the snake this time but they did snag a lot of stuff that got pushed on through. So I guess we can’t prove it? We have owned this house for 13 years, we lived in it for 7 years and have never had any problems with this until these people moved in.

The other problem is they have the unfinished portion of the basement filled with clothes. Some are in garbage bags and a ton of clothes are just spread out all over. I have no idea what’s going on but maybe she’s running a laundry business out of the house? (Which would be against the lease). I just can’t imagine what all the clothes are doing down there, we can hardly get to the drain next to the washer to work on the pipes. They are getting lent when they snake. So maybe the laundry is related to whatever keeps clogging the pipes.

We really just need to get them out. There are holes in the bathroom door upstairs we just replaced when we remodeled the bathroom before they moved in, there are cigarettes everywhere in the yard, they pay their rent late every single month. *they always pay before their 3 day pay or quit is up

So, how do I get them out? We are in the process of flipping a house but haven’t been able to touch it because we have to work on unclogging their drain every time my husband is off work. This is literally going to break us & we’re sinking fast. We can’t keep cleaning up their **** (literally), but I don’t know how to prove it’s their fault and how to evict them without proof. Help!

 Park a Sani-Can in the front yard and tell them the next time it clogs you have provided "relief".

@Carey Branam ,

I sympathize with you, plumbing issues are incredibly frustrating!   After hosting 4 people for the holidays, we suddenly had a major plumbing issue... turns out, a root has broken into the main... so stuff happens, sometimes timing is weird! 

 Without a doubt, cash for keys is your best option here if you feel it's their fault.    You should be able to check the electric/water bills for the house, to see if it's an abnormal use?   Whether they're running an illegal business or not, doesn't change the fact it's too much for your plumbing system.  You have 2 options to go about it, and you know the tenants and will know what they will react to best. 

1) Offensive-- prove with a plumber they are causing the issue, and they are responsible and per the lease, must pay for the plumbing damages.    You could offer to be nice and drop the charges, in exchange for them moving out immediately. I wouldn't hire a lawyer, you can find the code information online, and your biggest resource is your lease.

2) Nice--- state you don't know what's going on with the house, and need to have it vacant to do some intense plumbing jobs, as it'd put the house out of commission for an unknown amount of time.   Simple $500 and state you'll return the security deposit back promptly!    Just an idea! 

It sounds like you DO already have proof.  YOu said that you previously snaked out wipes.  Couple that with the wipes next to the toilet this time = proof.

If you have emptied the septic, and have set it up to be working properly, there should be no reason why it isn't.  I would send a Cure Notice to the tenant that they need to stop placing wipes down the toilet and causing the septic to back up.  Let them know that any further incident would result in charging them to resolve.

I would also get ahold of their water bill.  This would be the best indicator of whether they are running a laundry service or not.  The water bill would be outrageous if they are doing that much laundry.  I imagine that the electric bill would also have some impact (the dryer running).  I would submit a cure notice about that too.  In AZ, the cure notice is 3 days.  So, if they don't resolve it within 3 days, there is cause to evict.

Use the tools you have in front of you (your lease).  Document EVERYTHING.  In fact, you need a statement from the contractor who snaked the toilet and came up with the wipes.

Forget cash for keys, no reason to reward bad tenants. Send them written notice that all future septic costs will be at their expense. Make sure the tank is pumped immediately and lay all future costs on them. Do not do any work yourself.....hire contractors to do all clean up and repairs and bill them directly for the costs.

That should get them out.

Three ideas for you that might help, I had to do these in one of my properties.

- backflow preventer valve, has a flapper that prevents water from flowing the wrong way to a drain.  Had to put one in a downstairs apartment that had periodic overflow issues, maybe a well-placed one could help with your overflows.  It helped my issue for some time now.  The valve itself is inexpensive

-septic filter, looks like a big brush and stops stuff from going into the field so it stays in the tank, inexpensive, no issues using one so far on a system where I know wipes get flushed, gets changed each pump out

- camera inspection...may help pinpoint a trouble spot in your lines that is catching things.  In my case it was a cast iron section that was broken

Good luck with your issue, the 3 things above helped me, hopefully you get some better luck on these crappy tenants

I feel for you. It was the first time that I stuck my hand down a toilet to pull out wipes that caused the last time I signed a 12 month lease. 

I'll bet you have cause for eviction now. At the very least, cause for them to pay for repairs. This is when "nice and understanding" landlord needs to turn in to "no nonsense" landlord. You need to be 100% clear on this issue.

I read much of the link of KS landlord law the other poster so kindly provided. That appears to be a paraphrase of the law. You ought to be able to read the law for yourself online. Then cross-reference other online sources for KS landlords. Read your lease terms and figure out where they are in breach. In WI, multiple late payments is cause for eviction on a 12 month, so if you have served the 5 day multiple times, you may be able to get them out on that alone.

Dig in and get those punks out. There is nothing that infuriates me more than tenants that so blatantly disrespect property. I stress this fact to all my tenants over and over and in writing too. Trouble paying on time? I can work with that a bit. An occasional "whoops" damage? I can work with that too, accidents happen. Blatant disrespect? No, no, no, no, no. Flushing wipes down a septic is blatant disrespect, especially after it has already caused a problem once. I recommend you use month to month after this one.

If you do not already have these in place, this is a harsh lesson why you need to write additional terms and rules to the standard lease. You would think taking care of a septic system would be common sense, but common sense is not always so common and it only takes one dippy to cause big problems (think of a tenant that only ever lived in the city with public sewer). I would write up a septic system information and agreement sheet, that informs the tenant how it works and what they must do and must not do to ensure the system operates normally and does not suffer damage. I would do this for all other house systems too. These things are tedious at first, but will set the expectation in no uncertain terms.

Kappa notice for a nuisance eviction. I have had to do this in the past. Repeat backups are a health risk. 

“There are cases where compliance is not possible or will not be an option and the tenant can only vacate the property. This includes the creation of a nuisance by the tenant where his or her conduct constitutes a danger to the health and safety of others or who engages in criminal activity on the premises”