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Unread 09-15-2010, 09:37 AM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
5 posts, read 60,527 times
Reputation: 21
Default Raw Sewage back up in rental.... is it the landlord's responsibility?

Some background: My husband, 1 year old twins, and I moved into the bottom level unit of a duplex in March of this year. We were informed that there was a recurring sewage issue (not what the specific issue was) and that in 3 weeks they would be digging up the front yard and fixing the pipe where the blockage occured. They did this.

The problem: 3 weeks ago, we noticed the toilet wouldnt flush and after attempting to plunge it, had a massive rush of raw sewage into my home. It flowed out of the toilet, the tub, and the water heater. It completely soaked everything, including the carpet in a good portion of the unit. It ruined blakets, toys and clothes in the kids closet, and our belongings in the bathroom. They came out that day to fix it and we were told it should not happen again. That time they steamed the carpets, but did nothing about the soaked carpet pad. The smell was terrible after that. I do not have renter's insurance so I understand that our personal belongings that were ruined are on our dime. They paid for the repairs and cleaning as he should.

Sunday Morning I started a small load of laundry. 5 minutes later we hear a loud woosh and run to bathroom to see water flowing rapidly out of the toilet and into the bathtub. The tub filled halfway up with raw sewage once again. This time there were leaves and food and things in it also. The floor and all of our belongings were once again ruined. My kids could not go in their room because there was raw sewage on the floor. the water heater room was once again full of flowing seage water.

I called my landlord immediately. He did not answer so I called his property manager and left a message on his phone. They called back an hour later and said that he would get it taken care of. I went to work, leaving my 2 small children and my poor husband in the sewage filled house. The bathroom was completely unusable and the smell was sickening. I got home from work 5 hours later, he had still not shown up or called. I called him and told him that if I didn't hear back from someone that day that I would be calling the health department since it is a MAJOR health hazard to keep my kids, let alone myself and my husband, in such an unliveable condition. He called back and said he didn't appreciate being threatened and that he couldn't get any of his "contacts" (people who do cheap work for him who are probably not licensed) to come out until the next day. He was obviously drunk during this conversation. He then came to our unit later that evening, wasted, stumbling, slurring his words, to inspect what had happened. He then proceeds to tell my husband about all of the sewage back up issues that the previous tentants had. So we know it ws not our fault. We had to stay in a hotel that night.

They came out the next day and had to snake the pipe 2 times to get water to flow out of it. They even had the city come out and flush their sewage line (which is not where the backup was). It was in the exact same place that they had dug up. They pulled up carpet and replaced the pad, cleaned and put the carpet back down. The smell is finally gone, but now the fun part starts.

The property manager (the drunk one) came over last night and said that we owe for the entire cleanup and carpet removal and labor for his workers, and that it was our fault. He had seen some paper towels in my bathroom when he came over and that because he didn't see any toilet paper that we had to have been flushing paper towels down the toilet. He also saw my catbox on the floor in the bathroom and accused me of dumping kitty litter down the toilet to clog it. They even asked if I ws flushing my kids diapers down the toilet. I am not a neanderthal and have done none of tose things. This is not our fault and it was a reocurring problem since before we moved in. How can they hold us responsible for the bill. They even want to charge us because they had the city come out. He is just mad because I said I was going to call the health department and feels like I threatened him.

I refuse to pay for this and need to know what my rights are if I should get a lawyer. We have always paid our rent on time.... so frustrating.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 09:43 AM
 
Location: NJ
17,580 posts, read 16,479,517 times
Reputation: 15219
I would probably lawyer up pretty quick and try to get out of the lease ASAP. Do you have any documentation about the previous sewage problems or was that all verbal?
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Unread 09-15-2010, 09:49 AM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
5 posts, read 60,527 times
Reputation: 21
it was all verbal except for when we saw them dig up the yard and seawg line after we moved in. I figured as much. I think when it comes down to it, if I get a lawyer and am ready for a lawsuit, they will realize it is going to cost them more to take me to court than it is to just foot the bill... it sucks because I am completely expecting this to happen again and would rather just move.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 10:03 AM
 
Location: St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
19,213 posts, read 20,205,182 times
Reputation: 19787
http://www.healthyhomestraining.org/...s_11-23-09.pdf

Above is a link which, if you scan down to Colorado, clearly states what are the responsibilities of the landlord in maintaining habitable premises. From what you've described it's clear that either the LL or the property manager or both have failed to perform in accordance with state laws and now are trying to put the blame on you.

Do you have a lease and, if so, does the lease address maintenance issues? In any case, the responsibilities of the LL are quite clear cut in all states where health issues (such as sewage problems) are concerned. The LL would have to prove that diapers, kitty litter and paper towels were flushed out of the system in order to blame you and in my opinion he's simply trying the big bluff routine.

I would put everything into writing to the landlord, copied to the property manager, exactly as you've stated the problems here with a cc to your local Health Department. Too bad if it irritates them but you should get everything in writing to them as a first step and then immediately follow up from there with the Health Department and, if necessary, hire an attorney so you don't have to deal directly with either of them any more. They should, I might add, be responsible for paying your hotel bill so make sure you keep copies of the receipts - and if you took photographs of the damage that would certainly be of help too. You may also be entitled to moving expenses but an attorney can better advise you where that's concerned.

Good luck!

I'd also start looking for another place to live as it seems obvious that you're dealing with a slumlord and that nothing much will be better if other problems arise.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 10:55 AM
 
Location: Boise, ID
4,953 posts, read 8,460,981 times
Reputation: 4170
I agree. This is a situation where you should lawyer up. Not only should you not be responsible for any of that cleaning, they should be responsible for the cost of your hotel stay. They should allow you to break the lease with no penalty, give you your deposit back and pay for your moving costs. In addition, even though you should have renters insurance, I would argue that since it was a known ongoing problem, they should have some liability for your belongings as well.

The health department should be notified, as well. That isn't a threat, it is the right thing to do, as he isn't taking care of the problem himself.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 02:23 PM
 
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
5 posts, read 60,527 times
Reputation: 21
We did some research and found that they did not have permits or licensed workers for any of the major sewage work that they did. My husband is Mech4 certifed and we found out that he can lose his license for not reporting a situation that was hazardous to health and safety to the Health department.

We also found that the things they are telling us came out of the sewage line that they say we flushed, could and most likely were pushed into our sewage line when the city came out and blew their line clean. So there is absolutely no way they can say we flushed any of the things they are saying we did. And that is if they did find anything, which I doubt.

We have been looking at building and plumbing codes also and found that our duplex does not even meet some of the building code standards. We will be meeting with the property manager this weekend after we speak to a lawyer and basically lay out all of the things we found. We will be telling them that we are not paying a dime and if they want anything else to contact our lawyer. We also will be calling the health department no matter what because you are supposed to report situation that hazardous to health. Sewage sitting for over 24 hours is considered very hazardous. We also found out that even though we don't have renters insurance that if we can prove they wee negligent, they will be responsible for our damaged belongings.... let them mess with me...

Thank you so much for the advice and for the link. That helped greatly!
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Unread 09-15-2010, 02:37 PM
 
4,825 posts, read 4,771,847 times
Reputation: 3383
3 Words : Small Claims Court

I think if you took this before a judge he would be shocked.

( Just because its shocking does not neccesarily mean you will prevail )

Contact the Health District, ASAP.

If you can afford it , stay somewhere else until this is resolved.

Your LL sounds like a cheap man with a drinking problem..

Save all correspondence with your LL, voicemails , emails , snail mails . You may need this in court.

An attorney can advise you where to take this...
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Unread 09-15-2010, 03:53 PM
 
Location: Boise, ID
4,953 posts, read 8,460,981 times
Reputation: 4170
Be careful with the Building Code violations. Properties have to be built to whatever the code is at the time they are built. Some areas require some properties to be brought up to current code, but not all and not always. If you are reading the current Building Code and the property is 20 years old, the fact that the unit isn't in compliance with that code may not matter (unless of course it is a health or safety issue).

An example of this is tempered glass. Current building code in my area says that windows that are less than x inches from the ground and windows within x inches of a water source must be tempered (I think). But that has not always been the case. If an old window that falls into these categories break, we replace with tempered, but we don't have to replace them all just because the code changed.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 04:20 PM
 
4,919 posts, read 8,462,870 times
Reputation: 5634
Just to add, make sure you read the landlord tenant laws and follow exactly what it says you must do. If you are told to send a written letter with delivery confirmation, send a written letter with delivery confirmation. If it says to demand repairs within 24 hours, demand repairs within 24 hours. Pay close attention to anything that you can do but only if you follow certain steps in order. You may be able to get hotel expenses paid for if you do certain things and they don't do certain things. You will need to make sure you are following what rules the law sets out for your to do certain things. The less technical escapes you give, the better for you.

I agree with /\ /\.
the codes your unit is under may not be what you are reading. But unlicensed workers on sewer lines, i think your sewer dept would want to know about that.
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Unread 09-15-2010, 05:02 PM
 
Location: Maine
2,192 posts, read 2,908,313 times
Reputation: 2271
If you are going to get a lawyer anyway, have your lawyer write a letter to the prop manager stating why you will not be paying, rather than tell him yourself. It will make things a lot easier on you (and any claims you may have against them) if you let all communication be between the lawyer and them.
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