Tenant accommodation during invasive repairs

11 Replies

So I have a rather tricky situation that I need to resolve at a rental condo.  I own one of the units out of a total of eight in the building.

There is a copper drain pipe leak inside the common wall between my unit and next door.

Very old building from the 1960s, 1-1/2" copper trap arm from the kitchen - most likely previous owners or tenants used drain cleaning chemicals that ate into the copper, and the pipe has developed pin hole leaks at the bottom.  When I initially discovered the leak last year I used some epoxy to patch the leak, but now the holes are appearing in other locations.  In addition, my next door neighbor's drain is also leaking.  Both units have mirror image floor plans and the drains are the same, they both turned into the wall and run to the stack like a double barrel shot gun.  Bottom line, the drains need to be replaced.

Technically, according to the HOA papers, the HOA has to repair anything inside the common wall, but this is a laid back HOA and things move slow with many absentee owners. I have received permissions from the officers that I have the freedom to hire whoever to get the needed repairs done ASAP , and we will worry about who pays what later.

The entire trap arm is about 6' long about 20" above finished floor.  However, one end of it is inside the sink cabinet, the other end of it where it connects to the stack is behind the bathroom, where there is a tub the whole length, and tiled wall (with no spare tiles).  It is the exact same situation next door.  There is no getting around ripping out cabinets, taking down tiled walls and waterproofing etc...both kitchen and bathroom will be unusable for days.

Which brings me to my question.  If we decide to open up my side for the repairs, I have to work something out with the tenant.  Let's say the unit is going to be out of service for one week, I know I have to return pro-rated rent for days not occupied.  However, what else is customary and reasonable as a compensation to the tenant for the obviously extremely inconvenience?  She has been a good tenant (4 years) and has two cats (so hotels may be difficult).  She has renter's insurance but I don't know what is covered.

Any suggestions as to what others do when units have to be vacated for repairs.

In the past I had one case where I had to vacate the entire building with 4 units for termite tenting.  But that time it was carefully planned, all the tenants worked out the dates, and they only have to be out 48 hours.  That time I refunded three days rent plus a $100 supermarket gift card for each of them and that worked out fine.  This time it is a longer period of time, with an urgency, and the pets make it a bigger inconvenience.

I’d talk to the tenant. Obviously they want a working kitchen, and they may not be as high-maintainence as you think.

They may be happy living in the house for the couple days, with a gift card or two to pay for a few meals out. Especially if they know you’re trying to make it as easy for them as possible.

Had a tenant move in and 2 days later, a bathroom leak required tearing up the bathroom floor. I thought they’d have issues for the 2-3 days with only a shower and temporary plywood on the floor (and a half-bath downstairs), but they didn’t care. Their biggest question was what the new bathroom floor would look like. :)

In my opinion, allowing them to stay during the process is not a good idea.

There will be no kitchen sink usage (drain will be cut off).

The toilet may be removed to allow room to operate.

The wall above the bath tub will be opened with tiles removed (no shower).

There will be carpenters, plumbers, myself, helpers, coming in and out.

We may run into some unforseen situations that may require plan B, plan C scenerios.

She has two cats.  The risks of cats getting into cut open wall spaces, getting injured from power tools, stepping on nails, screws, saw blades, drill bits, or even worse, swallowing these, or run outside while doors are opened dozens of times a day by different people is too much added stress.

State laws are different but I would say pro-rated rent credit for unoccupied time is all that I would offer and that would be optional. Only time it may be required is in the case of a Health/Safety issue such as mold remediation.

@Sam Leon

You take the cats at your place, put her in a hotel, get the job done. Don't want the cats? Do you have any friends who can take the cats? There are  pet sitters who can take the cats, too. Call and ask around. But I suggest you take the cats. Great learning experience for the kids.   It'll help them figure out that what they really want out of life is high-income employment with plenty of money to put into mutual funds starting in their twenties instead of alternative investment strategies like real estate. They'll also see why Daddy goes through so much of his special Daddy-juice every week.

Now what I'm most worried about reading your post is how much cheddar you're going to spend on this repair,m and what the end result will be. It's a six-foot run of 1 1/2 in drainpipe.  I would do all the work myself on something like this, from the demo to the replacement to the drywall patching to the tiling to the colormatched painting. Not so much because of the money, but really because on something like this, labor-intensive but not really requiring a lot of skill and care except for one glaring exception, someone's practically guaranteed to do something shady. 

What's the quote and what's the scope of work here? What you should worry about is the drainpipe connection to the main stack. That's likely where you're going to find some corrosion, and your plumber will suddenly tell you they have to saw out a significant section of the stack and replace that with Fernco couplings above and below the joint, which will require more demo than originally planned.

Sadly, it's also likely where someone might to see a problem happening, realize that explaining the issue to you will take time and invite suspicion that he's cheating you, so in will go a single, much smaller Fernco coupling running to the 1 1/2 branch and a couple years from now you'll have to open the tiled wall up again. The inspection of the joint made from the 1 1/2 in. drainpipe to the stack is the most critical part of this repair.

Here is what you do, leave your tenant in place, let them do the work from the other owners side, letting the HOA reimburse them. this should not effect your tenant but for one day as they cut out the old pipe and put the new one in.

I would do nothing more than a rent rebate for the days the unit is effected. Her tenant insurance should cover the rest of her costs. Let her decide if she wants to stay or move out during the repairs. 

Originally posted by @Patrick Liska :

Here is what you do, leave your tenant in place, let them do the work from the other owners side, letting the HOA reimburse them. this should not effect your tenant but for one day as they cut out the old pipe and put the new one in.

 Next door is also a rented space.

I would be happy to have the repairs done next door, which was my plan A. However, next door owner cares less then I do. They are OK with letting the leak continues as long as their tenants do not scream louder than mine. They are hard to reach, they wanted the HOA to take action, the HOA is acting slow if at all, and at the end unless someone is takes the bull by the horn it's going to drag on and on. Eventually we will have a situation not only a drain issue but also mold remediation and termite infestation etc...

May be they don't care but playing the game and in the end I am more concerned and wanted this done so it falls on me to make it happen.

Originally posted by @Jim K. :

@Sam Leon

You take the cats at your place, put her in a hotel, get the job done. Don't want the cats? Do you have any friends who can take the cats? There are  pet sitters who can take the cats, too. Call and ask around. But I suggest you take the cats. Great learning experience for the kids.   It'll help them figure out that what they really want out of life is high-income employment with plenty of money to put into mutual funds starting in their twenties instead of alternative investment strategies like real estate. They'll also see why Daddy goes through so much of his special Daddy-juice every week.

Now what I'm most worried about reading your post is how much cheddar you're going to spend on this repair,m and what the end result will be. It's a six-foot run of 1 1/2 in drainpipe.  I would do all the work myself on something like this, from the demo to the replacement to the drywall patching to the tiling to the colormatched painting. Not so much because of the money, but really because on something like this, labor-intensive but not really requiring a lot of skill and care except for one glaring exception, someone's practically guaranteed to do something shady. 

What's the quote and what's the scope of work here? What you should worry about is the drainpipe connection to the main stack. That's likely where you're going to find some corrosion, and your plumber will suddenly tell you they have to saw out a significant section of the stack and replace that with Fernco couplings above and below the joint, which will require more demo than originally planned.

Sadly, it's also likely where someone might to see a problem happening, realize that explaining the issue to you will take time and invite suspicion that he's cheating you, so in will go a single, much smaller Fernco coupling running to the 1 1/2 branch and a couple years from now you'll have to open the tiled wall up again. The inspection of the joint made from the 1 1/2 in. drainpipe to the stack is the most critical part of this repair.

 There are multiple components to this issue.

Who pays for this, shared cost between the two units affected, HOA, and depending on the amount, insurance may be involved. The HOA is acting slow, but they are unwilling to let me DIY the repair even though I am qualified and a licensed engineer. They want an insured, licensed and bonded plumber to execute the repair for liability and insurance purposes.

The only thing I negotiated that I can some freedom is I can do the hiring, pay them out of my pocket then invoice the HOA later. This is much better than them hiring a clueless plumber. At least I get to control the timing, procedures and methods.

As to the actual repair itself.  You are right that there are some complications involved and several scenerios may develop.

The stack a 4" CI (that's what's sticking out of the roof).  It is in a common wall cavity (2X6 studs) between two apartments with identical mirrored configurations.

Along the wall left to right is bathroom sink, toilet, bathtub, then a wall, then kitchen sink.  Same on other side.

The stack is to the right of the bathroom, to the left of the kitchen sink.  In between is the toilet and tub.

My plan A is to open up the back of the kitchen sink cabinet.  Remove the toilet to gain some working space, remove the tiles behind the toilet.  This will give me an opening on both ends of the drain pipes and also the stack.

Because both kitchen drains runs to the stack in a double barrel shot gun fashion, and the bathroom sink also run that way, I have to conclude that there can be no other possibility at the stack but two double tapped tee on on top of the other.  Could be hub fittings with lead or no hub.  No idea.

I am hoping once I free the elbow on the kitchen side, and cut the copper pipe close to the connection, I can tease out the 1.5" copper drain a piece at a time by cutting every 18".  Once done, I can back out the copper male adapter if it's not badly corroded and fused.

Yes one of my fears is the connections are badly corroded which will mean replacing the fittings, and if i have a hubbed fittings with the bathroom double tapped tee on top with a street end into it, I have to mess with that it may turn ugly.

Even worse if the pipe below that fitting has a vertical crack into the concrete slab.

Or I can even tease out the copper pipe after having the two openings because it's strapped to the framing in between, or the holes are drilled so close a copper coupling cannot pass through.

I may have to replace with same copper since PVC may be too large OD to fit through existing stud holes.

@Sam Leon

The insurance does look very important here, you've got to admit. There's never been an HOA in the history of HOAs that lets engineers DIY fixes in condo buildings.

The good news is that CAN chop a 4-in. cast iron stack these days with minimal clearances. You use a diamond coated recipro/Sawzall blade and pause every 30 seconds to dip the blade in water. You can get through fine. It will take a lot of time, and time will be the major money component of this job.

The outer diameter of the pipes is going to be a serious issue between 1 1/2 copper and PVC as you called it -- there is an extreme difference in thickness. I happen to have a pic of that on file.

But even if you can back the copper out of the far hole 18 inches at a time, Sam, how are you going to shove the new pipe back in? 18 inches at a time and couplings as you go? There's no way PVC joined in that way that will fit through holes drilled for copper.

I'm afraid you're going to to resign yourself to what is obviously Plan B, the full down-to-the-studs money makeover of the wall along the route of the pipe, and what that's going to cost you.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I will pray along with you that you don't find the possible long crack in the stack running into the slab you mentioned.

Originally posted by @Jim K. :

@Sam Leon

The insurance does look very important here, you've got to admit. There's never been an HOA in the history of HOAs that lets engineers DIY fixes in condo buildings.

The good news is that CAN chop a 4-in. cast iron stack these days with minimal clearances. You use a diamond coated recipro/Sawzall blade and pause every 30 seconds to dip the blade in water. You can get through fine. It will take a lot of time, and time will be the major money component of this job.

The outer diameter of the pipes is going to be a serious issue between 1 1/2 copper and PVC as you called it -- there is an extreme difference in thickness. I happen to have a pic of that on file.

But even if you can back the copper out of the far hole 18 inches at a time, Sam, how are you going to shove the new pipe back in? 18 inches at a time and couplings as you go? There's no way PVC joined in that way that will fit through holes drilled for copper.

I'm afraid you're going to to resign yourself to what is obviously Plan B, the full down-to-the-studs money makeover of the wall along the route of the pipe, and what that's going to cost you.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I will pray along with you that you don't find the possible long crack in the stack running into the slab you mentioned.

Really won't know until we back the pipes out and peek into the wall and see what we are dealing with.

I am OK with replacing the copper with copper, yes soldering a coupling every 18" (or however wide the wall opening/stud bay is which may dictate otherwise).

I have to replace two 1.5" pipes from two kitchens, at the same height in parallel, so I have been wondering how the wood framing was done.  Trusses ran parallel to the wall so it doesn't seem to be load bearing wall but I might crawl the attic this week (in south Florida 90 degrees out) to make sure, and may be drill a hole in the top plate to feed down an endoscope to see if I get some answers.  If they hole sawed two holes side by side across multiple 2X6s, or they did something else?

Most likely PVC with coupling will not work, then I will go back to copper.

But if the copper is strapped to the framing in between and the coupling is caught and I can't tease it out, then I have a problem.

As far as cutting CI, I used to use Lenox diamond blades, but last year I tried a newer blade by Diablo extreme thick metal carbide tipped blade, and was pleasantly surprised how well that worked.  I cut through a 2" CI pipe in less than a minute, and it is a cheaper blade.  Turned out it was an omen.  I was cutting out a fitting in a vertical section, I was so shocked at how fast it cuts through, both on top and bottom of the fitting, I though there must have been a badly corroded pipe with super thinned walls, I removed the cut section to have a closer look on both ends...for two seconds, and the top part - obviously unsecured by the previous plumber above the attic, fell down and hit the section below, cracked that section, and I had to cut open the concrete slab to replace all the way down including the horizontal turning elbow.