John's Blog


What you don't know CAN hurt you!

The guests appeared to be enjoying the music, the food and the drinks. In fact the fun was in full swing when the hostess was told that the bathroom toilet was blocked and overflowing. The plunger was pressed into service to no avail. The phone book came out and an emergency plumbing service said they would send someone right out. The pipes were eventually cleared but not until after the party was disrupted and the host had shelled out a fist full of dollars.

The plumber was able to clear the blockage but suggested that because the pipes are hidden underground, a video camera scan would be needed to identify the problem so proper repairs could be done to prevent this from recurring.

The hostess was perplexed because there had been no warning, no indication at all that the sewer system was having issues.

According to Chris Griffin, the President of Sewer Line Check Professionals, "This is common because 90-95% of the private sewer line systems in LA have some sort of problem that needs attention but give no indication or warning until there's a catastrophe."

"The most common sewer line problems include root intrusion, damaged pipes due to seismic activity or old deteriorated pipes that are just past their useful life span," Griffin said. "The city of Los Angeles puts the responsibility squarely on the individual property owner to construct, maintain and repair sewer line systems, including the connections to the city sewer pipes under the street."

The Los Angeles City Attorney states, in part: "this rule is not altered by the fact (if it is a fact) that roots of trees growing in the street caused clogging of the sewer line." The privilege is granted to the house owner to connect his house with the main publicly owned street sewer, and the duty to keep clean the privately owned sewer rests upon the owner of such house-connecting sewer, not upon the City. House connection sewer laterals are not of general benefit since they serve and can be used legally to serve only a single lot. The fact that the house connection sewer is in a public street does not mean that it is of public benefit and that City forces at the expense of the taxpayers should perform the maintenance and repair.

Tree roots do not enter sewer lines unless there is a break that leaks moisture and provides an opening encouraging root penetration. Root invasion can generally be remedied by periodic rotary root removal. Extensive damage may require excavation and installation of a new sewer line.

The Urban Forestry Division will assist the property owner in acquiring the necessary permits when the sewer problem involves a street tree; contact the Division at (213) 485-5675.

Sewer systems should be inspected from time to time and certainly when purchasing a property. Always hire an inspection company that is not also a plumbing company to avoid any conflict of interest. With an average inspection cost of less than $300.00, it's a small price to pay to avoid the messy, and costly consequences of a sewer system backing up.

By John LaRocca, Real Estate Inspection Specialist
Comment balloon 3 commentsJohn LaRocca • May 08 2008 10:24PM


John, very interesting post.  Something that I never think about and have never advised customers about.  Thanks for the tip.
Posted by Lisa Friedman, Central New Jersey Real Estate (Alliance Realtors) about 12 years ago

VERY interesting--I just looked up at Lisa's comment and find it funny that we initially thought of your story with the same adjective!!  I had no idea about this and have never had an experience with this at all.  Thanks for sharing.

Debe in Charlotte


Posted by Debe Maxwell, CRS, The right Charlotte REALTOR! ( | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310) about 12 years ago

Hi John,

That is good advice worth following.  It is a small price to pay for protecting one of your largest assets.

Posted by Bill Exeter, 1031 Tax-Deferred Exchange Expert (Exeter 1031 Exchange Services, LLC) about 12 years ago