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Can codes help with condo sewage problem

by Burnett
(Memhis Tn Shelby)

Visitor Question: I own a condo on one side. The lady next door owns the condo on the other side. She moved to another state, but she still owns the condo.

The problem is that we share the toilet line underground pipe that is connected with a T. Both cleanout pipes are on her property, and the toilet line goes under my driveway and under my property yard near the sidewalk by the street. We have a lots of problems with the plumbing getting clogged up and over flowing in my house because her house is a little higher on one side. Also she has a business going next door where she rents her condo as a vacation home to different people all around from different states.

Because of this, my husband and I end up unstopping the plumbing ourselves or paying to get it unstopped through a plumbing company. More of the time my husband unstops it by buying things to clear the pipes or paying people to use things. She gave us money two times within three years.

We are out of money all the time, and feel like we should not have to pay the cost alone, because we are connected on the roof on the condo as well as the siding on the condo and the toilet pipes too.

I want to know is there away to resolve this issue with a code.

Editors Reply: That certainly sounds like an unpleasant neighbor problem.

To answer your direct question, there might be a way to resolve this through an appeal to your city's or county's code enforcement. You won't know until you try, so we would urge you to make a phone call today. (If you are inside city limits, call the city government, and if not, call Shelby County.)

Just as background information, all three types of codes that we have written about to date might come into play here. We think the strongest possibility might be that the pipe was not the proper size according to the building code. However, building codes usually are enforced during construction, and there may be no remedy if your condominiums were constructed several years ago. So even though the design or construction itself probably was faulty if you are having this much trouble, the city or county may have no way to enforce a change at this point in time.

Next, it it possible that your city or county will have either a property maintenance code or an existing building code in place. Either would require proper sewage disposal methods and might help relieve your problem if a deficiency is found.

Since the problem appears to be underground, based on the information you gave us, code inspectors might have to use a camera system to inspect the pipes for major blockages. They may or may not have the capability of doing this.

The problem with relying on code enforcement for resolving this issue is that you are going to be seen as equally responsible. However, code enforcement if it applies would help you gain leverage with the owner of the condo next door so that you could try to fix the problem once and for all.

Another type of "code" that might be violated is the zoning ordinance. It is possible that these short term rentals are not "permitted uses" in your zoning district. When you call your city or county, ask also about whether the short term vacation rental is permitted. If not, they should shut down that operation in due time, and that might well prevent the recurrence of your problem if bad behavior of renters is what is causing it.

We have an alternative suggestion too, which is to try to work with your HOA (homeowners' association) if your condo has one. Most condos do have some form of HOA that you are paying fees to on an annual basis, although this is not always the case.

If there is an HOA, you should approach someone that serves on its board of directors and describe this situation. Find out if your situation is unique, or if other condo owners in the same complex are complaining about a similar problem. We think it is likely that this is a design flaw and that you are not the only ones experiencing this situation.

Also ask the HOA if short term rentals are permitted in your master deed or condominium association bylaws. If not, insist that they enforce that rule.

There is also the possibility of trying to solve this with a lawsuit against the other owner or against your builder or homeowners association. Since you say you are out of money, you might be able to qualify for free or reduced legal fees through your local legal aid office. You will have to ask around to find out exactly what this is called in your area.

Of course lawsuits don't bring out the best behavior in people, so this is a last resort but one worth considering.

Lastly, if you approach your HOA and they say that all of the condos in your development are plumbed in the same manner and that no one else is having a problem, you know that it is renter behavior that you have to deal with. If there is no help through the other measures we have outlined, you will have to plead with your neighbor to control renter behavior better.

We agree that you can't continue to have to clean out the sewage line yourselves. It's good that your neighboring property owner has at least contributed to the cost twice, but you don't need the hassle of trying to collect on the bills every time this happens. We hope one of the options we have described will help you out.

  1. Community Development
  2. Questions
  3. Condos Share Toilet Pipe


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