In denial about your sewer connection?
Many of Portland’s older neighborhoods have been connected to the public sewer system for decades. This is a good thing; far better than letting all that yuck seep into the ground water through cesspools and such. But…those decades old sewer connections are quirky and starting to fail; secretly, underground, so we don’t know. One of the many quirks is that back in the day, in order to save money and to increase efficiency, sewer lines were not run down every street and in front of every house. Instead, some houses’ sewer connections were joined together before heading out to the city sewer main in the street. Some sewer lines even cross a neighboring property to access the nearest sewer main.
Why does this matter?
A sewer connection can fail catastrophically; that is in one day, filling your basement with your know what. Most often though, we see slower failures; plugged drains, sewer back ups only rarely etc. And in most real estate transactions, buyers are having the sewer line “scoped” or filmed to see the condition. Many sewer lines have minor issues and we hope the contractors performing these scopes are reasoned and not alarmist. A sewer line with a slight crack can be serviceable for years to come. But often the scopes do show more drastic damage indicating the need for prompt work. Sewer scopes can also show issues on the city “side if the sewer line, and a good contractor can assist in getting the City of Portland out to do their work.
Here’s the rub
Portland’s Uniform Plumbing Code requires each property to have an independent connection and legal route of access to the public sewer. The city will not approve new party sewer lines or repair of existing party sewer lines if a separate connection to the public sewer is feasible. As a matter of fact, Portland City Code 1.33.105 requires that nonconforming sanitary sewer connections be abandoned within 180 days of city notification to affected property owners that individual and direct sanitary sewer connections are available.
In plain English, once the City of Portland knows about your nonconforming sewer, you have 180 days to get it fixed. Here is one version of how this happens. Your neighbor puts their house up for sale, and the prospective buyers have the sewer scoped. The scope shows a party sewer and some reason for repair ( or maybe not, in this buyers’ market many buyers aren’t willing to buy a house with a party sewer as they don’t want the replacement liability down the road). This means, your sewer will be effected. The scope (excuse the pun) of the effect will vary with where the party sewer runs and on which property it runs. So all of a sudden, you are drawn into the sewer project. Aack!
Exceptions to this include existing party sewer connections that meet certain easement and agreement requirements, and areas where public sewer is not yet available.
What’s to be done?
Not a lot right now. Existing plans and sewer maps don’t accurately depict the reality. Sewer failures and sewer scopes provide the most accurate information. Home sales trigger the bulk of sewer scopes and sewer line replacements, so be sure to chat with your neighbors to say abreast of their plans.
For more information on nonconforming sewer connections visit portlandonline.com.
Not the cheeriest information…
I know this isn’t high on anyone’s list of what to think about or fund with your savings. And no, you don’t need to run out and replace your sewer today. But I do think this is important information for homeowners and home buyers. When you go to buy or sell, you’ll have some sense of the process and consequences. And most of all, watch out for those neighbors who may be selling!