Oakland sewer lateral ordinance now in effect
Originally appeared in Bay Area News Group publications on January 27, 2012
A private sewer lateral (PSL) is the pipe that connects the sewage line in a building to the public sewer main that is usually in the street. As of January 16, 2012, all properties in the City of Oakland, except condominiums and large retail structures, are subject to an ordinance that requires inspection and possible repair of PSLs under certain circumstances.
This is a good thing for those of us who live in Oakland and for the environment. There are details, however, for buyers and sellers to know and understand to avoid problems. Reading my previous two articles on this subject, Sewer Line Blues and Sewer Line Blues II, will likely open your eyes to what could happen if you do not pay attention.
The East Bay has many houses built before 1950 that still have part, or all, of their original, clay pipe sewer line system. Think heavy-duty flower pot material. Over time, these lines move, crack, and are often infiltrated by tree roots. This results in leaks and blockages.
Dysfunctional sewer laterals allow rainwater into sewer lines, an overabundance of which can overwhelm public sewer systems and treatment plants. This can lead to a release of partially-treated sewage into San Francisco Bay. The federal and state governments have mandated EBMUD and local cities to institute this program in order to reduce pollution in the Bay.
Situations calling for compliance
In addition to selling the house, the law applies to permits that exceed $100,000 in work and an increase or decrease in water service that results in changing the meter size. A “Compliance Certificate” from EBMUD is required in these instances. This must be provided to the escrow holder in order to close the sale (unless an “Extension Certificate” is provided for an extension of up to 180 days).
How to proceed
As a seller, it would be prudent to handle the sewer lateral issue at the beginning of your process, preferably before your home is on the market. Your Realtor should be able to refer you to reputable companies. As there can be wide variations in what firms charge for the same project, getting more than one bid makes sense.
According to a local sewer line contractor, step one is to “camera” your sewer lateral. This entails snaking a cable with a video camera at the end into your line to make sure there are no breaks, blockages or roots. He does not charge for this.
If you have any of these problems, that section will need repair or replacement and he will provide a bid. This work needs to be completed before EBMUD is scheduled to verify the pressure test of your lateral.
As it costs $150 to have EBMUD come out, and a sewer lateral with problems will necessitate scheduling them again at, possibly, another $150, you want to first be sure your line does not need work.
After the camera examination, if there are no apparent problems, the contractor “pre-inspects” (pressure tests with water) the line. If issues are discovered at this point, he will give a bid for repairs.
If his preliminary pressure test is satisfactory, he will schedule EBMUD to observe him testing the line again. It must hold the water for 10 minutes without leaking to pass. He charges $725, including the $150 EBMUD fee.
Note that, depending on the condition and configuration of your system, an anti-backflow device and/or cleanout installation may also be necessary. Make sure work is done under permit.
Obtaining an extension
Only in the case of a sale may an extension be obtained by depositing a $4500 check with EBMUD. The deposit can come from either buyer or seller, but both parties need to take special care to avoid a dispute later. This should be handled in a written contract addendum that clearly outlines who will make the deposit and what will happen to the $4500 once the Compliance Certificate has been issued.
Sewer lateral or entire system?
The ordinance requires a sewer lateral free of breaks and leaks, but does not address sewer line problems under the house. I can tell you from personal experience that these can also cause a backup in your line. It is no fun to suddenly discover that your toilet, sink, bathtub, shower, individually, or all at the same time, have overflowed and caused a stinking mess.
As a buyer, make sure the entire system is checked out before you remove your inspection contingency. If you buy without doing this, it could cost you $10,000 or more to replace defective, buried sewer line pipes under the property.
Sewer lines, whether the lateral or entire system, do not generate much thought and attention from buyers or sellers. I have written about this before because it is one of the important systems in a house. Failing to be mindful of the pitfalls can be both aggravating and expensive.
For more information, check EBMUD’s website.
Sewer Line Blues II