Who is responsible for clogged drains?
Who is responsible for blocked drains?
It's the job that nobody wants. Your tenant is on the phone – there’s a blockage. The kitchen sink isn’t emptying. Or worse still, the toilet isn’t flushing away. There’s a bad smell and they’re worried that foul water is going to flood the property. What are you going to do about it, and who is responsible for clogged drains?
Dealing with blockages is an occupational hazard for any landlord, and at the same time can be one of the most common bones of contention between landlord and tenant, when each considers that the other should take responsibility for sorting it out.
If the tenant is responsible…
Tessa Shepperson of Landlord Law Services, says: “It depends on why the drain is blocked. If it is due to the tenant, then it should be the tenant’s obligation.”
At the crux of the matter is the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985, which says under ‘Repairing obligations in short leases’ that the landlord must keep “in repair and proper working order” installations including “basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences”. But importantly, Shepperson points out, the same legislation adds that this obligation doesn’t apply in situations “for which the lessee is liable by virtue of his duty to use the premises in a tenant-like manner”. In simple terms, that means if the tenant has caused the problem, for example by putting excessive grease down the kitchen sink, or sanitary towels or wet-wipes in the toilet, then it is their responsibility to clear the blockage.
If the issue is a single blocked sink, basin, bath or shower, suggest they try and remove the obstruction themselves, using a plunger, a drain-cleaning coil or chemicals. In most cases they should be able to succeed with a little ingenuity.
A blocked toilet is more serious because it has more potential to cause flooding, but you could suggest that the tenants don some long rubber gloves and put their hands down the S-bend; they will often be able to pull out whatever is causing the blockage.
When that doesn’t work, an emergency plumber or drain specialist will have to be called. And you may decide to take that action yourself for pragmatic reasons; since March 2019 tenants have had the power to sue landlords who fail to adequately maintain their properties under a new law, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. If the blockage is shown to be the tenants’ fault, then you may ask them to pay for the work, though the onus will be on you to prove the fault of the tenant in this situation.
If the landlord is responsible …
Where the landlord does have responsibility is when the blockage is due to structural reasons – for example if tree roots have broken through external pipework, or even if the drainage is poorly designed and causes debris to catch on sharp bends. If the problem is within the property boundaries, it’s the responsibility of the landlord (and any other leaseholders where pipework is shared). You may be able to sort out the blockage yourself, if you know where access hatches are, and you have suitable equipment such as drain rods. If it falls outside your property boundaries, the water company has to solve the problem.
The best approach is ensuring that all plumbing is working effectively before the tenancy begins, and then make it clear to tenants exactly what they can put down sinks and toilets to avoid confusion. You may wish to document this in writing in case you need proof of tenancy breach to claim reparations later on.