Plumbing easement question in Pensacola FL

8 Replies

I have a problem that has me completely stumped at the moment. I have a property (1 unit of a duplex) that is currently tenant-occupied. The sewer line runs out of my unit, under the lawn and driveway of the other unit (owned by another landlord), and into the sewer tap under the street. The sewer line was apparently not built to code in the first place, but the drain line is starting to collapse under the weight of the neighbor's cars (they park mainly in the driveway but also in their yard directly on top of the sewer line). To repair the problem would necessitate cutting  and partially resurfacing the neighbor's driveway. I have contacted the neighbor's property management firm (I have not been able to get in touch with the owner himself), and explained the situation and that I am willing to pay for everything, but they are  telling me the owner is completely unwilling to discuss it. Is there anything I can do?

Yes you have options, depending on what the material facts as they stand now are will determine what exactly your options are. 

First, is there an actual recorded easement for the lateral?

Second when you say "not to code" do you mean poorly constructed or do you mean that the lateral's actual physical location was not approved to run across the neighboring property?

Last, is there any realignment of the lateral that would still allow you to use the existing tap but not require going under the driveway? And in the same vein, is there a realignment that would work with a new tap (meaning is it even possible to get to the main without crossing the neighbor's property)?

I just noticed that this is a "condo" type property as far as it is a duplex with separately titled units. So that helps with some of the questions I posed. 

I would now assume the lateral serves both properties, and as such is constructed as was approved. It probably doesn't have an easement, but is "joint use and should have been spelled out in the documents creating the separate tiles for the units. Now you need to find what the CC&R's or other documents that were filed with the creation of the individually titled units are. 

Your neighbor likely will have no say in whether or not he wants to agree to allow the repair. You (and he) both should have received certain rights for maintenance of "common" systems or those that by necessity exist across the "lot line". If push comes to shove you can force his hand and he will have to allow for the repairs.

For the record his parking on the yard is probably against local codes (that's a very common code in all areas), and you could attempt to hold him liable for the repair cost associated with his "damage" to the lateral. It probably isn't worth the fight, but may be the leverage you need to get him to comply. Also once it's repaired keep him from parking on the yard anymore, if you need to; use code enforcement to your advantage to keep him from doing it.

Matt, thanks for your reply!

I do not believe there is a recorded easement. I have been trying to work with the county code enforcement office and also the tax assessor's office to figure it out. Is there any other way I should be approaching it?

By "not to code" I was paraphrasing from a plumber I have been talking with about the repairs. He says I should have schedule 80 ABS pipe, and what is there now appears to be something less than schedule 40. The lateral's actual location also may not be approved but I'm assuming I will find that out at the same time I finally figure out the easement question above. I should also mention that the neighbor's sewer line tees into the same line as mine, but the tee is below the restriction caused by the crushed/flattened pipe so it is not causing them problems.

My plumber and I are also looking at the possibility of a completely new lateral run that circumvents the neighboring property entirely, but at this point it looks like the only way to do that will require burying it in the street and down the road, and applying for a permit for a new tap. I'm not abandoning the idea in case it is my only option, but it looks like it will be 2-3x the cost and therefore not a very appealing option.

Oops, I missed your second reply. I will do some research into CC&Rs and see what I can come up with. I think the terminology you are giving me will help a lot in my conversations with the city and county officials.

If there is "your" property, and "your neighbor's property", then it's not a condominium, but rather fee simple ownership.  Is this correct, do each of you actually own their individual lot?  If so, either the sewer was built in the wrong place, as your utilities can Not cross another owner's property, without an easement, or there is an easement.  Normally the sewer main runs parallel to, and perhaps under, the road.  It sounds like your sewer line runs out toward the street, then turns 90 degrees running parallel to the road and the neighbor's sewer ties into yours?  If so, that portion running parallel to the road should be in a ROW, perhaps a public one. Sounds like the "public" main line doesn't front your property.

Sounds like the pipe goes at a 45° to the sewer connection in the street. You would not need o trench the entire line but rather just have to dig a hole on your property and hopefully on the terrace where the neighbor doesn't have a say. This technique is called pipe bursting where a new pipe is underwater in place and as the machine pulls the new pipe it also expands the old pipe out of the way.

Your title report should have listed any easements on the lot. You can go to the county recorder's office and search for actual documents recorded against your or your neighbor's property as well. That would be where you'd see the actual easement described.

Wayne made a good point. This may be separate fee simple ownership, not condo style like I mentioned. The difference is in fee simple there are two separate physical lots, and you just happen to share a common wall with 0 separation between the two units. Or in a condo style it is 1 physical lot with two units that are titled separately on it. 

Depending on which it is changes what I said before..... Is there a possibility of just replacing the line up to the neighbor's connection to the lateral? 

Thanks for all the input, guys. There is obviously a lot I don't know. Wayne and Kyle, you are both guessing correctly on some parts. Sorry for not clarifying earlier - I didn't know what was pertinent. 

Fee simple ownership sounds like what I have. I am 100% owner of my unit and my lot, and the other owner is the same on his side of the line. We share a wall and one stretch of backyard fence. The sewer lateral comes out of my unit for a few feet on my side of the property line, then runs at 45° across the neighbor's yard to the city sewer main, which terminates on the far side of my neighbor's property (i.e. it ends before it gets in front of my lot). There are two "bellies" in the sewer lateral, and both are under the neighbor's lot. One belly is upstream of where the neighbor's sewer lateral tees in, and one belly is downstream. For whatever reason, the neighbor's tenant reports no plumbing issues even though it seems like he should have some degree of the issues I have. My best guess is that because I have 2 bellies holding water and my lateral run is about 40' longer than his, I'm seeing issues and he is not. By "issues," I mean sewage coming out of the tub and sink drains when the toilet is flushed.

Sounds like I need to get down to the county recorder's office Monday morning and look for some documents, and also ask my plumber if the pipe bursting technique is an option here. I might be able to replace the lateral up to the tee, but it would only fix half the problems and it is still under the neighbor's lot. Again, thanks to everyone for the help!

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