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“This is confusing and obviously disappointing to me.”

by Prince Of Petworth June 15, 2017 at 1:45 pm 16 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

This past Saturday, my main drain got backed up. I called DC water and they said I needed a plumbing company to try to open it up and if that doesn’t work, they needed the plumbing company to report the location of the blockage.

A plumbing company came and determined the location and called DC water. DC water said it was outside my property line. The property line is 30 feet from the curb, and that puts the line a few feet away from my basement door under the porch. The next day, DC water sent some crew to confirm the location and they also confirmed the location. However, they said they couldn’t dig the stairs, because it’s structural and they can only dig up to the stairs and I am responsible for digging up the stairs.

This is confusing and obviously disappointing to me. If DC Water is only responsible up to the stairs, the stairs are visible and we really didn’t need to know my property line. At the beginning there was a great emphasis on finding if the problem is inside or outside the property line, but once that was determined, the stairs became the threshold.

Has anyone else in the community experienced this? How can I find the laws and code regarding what DC water is responsible for in terms of cleaning and repairing an aged drain pipe outside my house?

Thank you very much in advance, if you can help with this question or point me in the right direction.”

  • DCWater

    They didn’t have a problem tearing up my entire brick patio in front of my house to replace the water lines a year or two ago.

  • AnonV2

    Wait, is this a blockage in the public part of the sewer pipe, or a collapsed pipe that actually needs to be replaced? Whoever built the stairs at your house may have covered over the access pipe that should sit at your property line (a no no). If they want permission to demo your stairs because they need to replace the actual pipe then I would hope they would get you to agree to the work before they start knocking stuff down. In my experience DCWater won’t touch something on your house that involves more than moving dirt around (or destroying a patio, as the other poster said). I wouldn’t WANT DCWater to do anything structural to my place!!

    • ah

      I don’t believe the requirement for an access pipe at the property line was around when OP’s house (if it’s as depicted in the photo) was built.

  • RDU29
  • dat

    It sounds like your stairs are on city property (not uncommon — I believe part of my porch is too). Even though DC Water is responsible for the public side of your sewer line, it sounds like they are prohibited from digging/demo where the homeowner has a structure that overlaps onto public property. I see their position here, both for liability due to damage of the structure and liability for their workers.

    I assume that part of the risk you assume when you extend your structure(s) onto public property is also responsibility for the maintenance of the underground utility lines (as if they were on your own property).

    • Anon X

      I don’t think you have your facts right here. Most of the stairs (in fact some houses have the entire bay window section) on public property. I believe this is usually because of eminent domain/old easement when the roads/sidewalks were more narrow and the the city expanded their lines into existing structures. Or there was always a city easement for this portion.

      Regardless, there was no willful expansion onto city land where a reasonable understanding or assumption of maintenance could have occurred. Unless there is a covenant on the deed, or other written agreement, I don’t see how it is the full responsibility of the Homeowner. That said, I’m not sure what responsibility the utility has related to the structure. I’d get a lawyer and understand your options and how the responsibility is split.

      • NorthByNE

        Actually, the old parts of DC (basically whatever was included in the L’enfant plan) is governed by the Parking Act of 1870. L’enfant planned on DC having greatly expanded streets and 60-100′ wide boulevards, so property lines were set back to accommodate streets that wide. When it became apparent that DC didn’t need such wide roads, Congress granted DC residents the right to use the area between their property lines and the sidewalk as their own greenspace (or parks, hence the “parking act”) subject to certain restrictions.

        So the city never expanded onto private property, private citizens were granted to semi-private use of district property.

        • Anon X

          Well that’s only south of Florida. Much of the city still has structures over the property line and its not lefants fault.

  • also anon

    This post is very confusing to me? It sounds like DC Water is willing to fix the problem but the problem is under your stairs. Is that correct?

    • ah

      That’s what it sounds like to me – basically OP is responsible for removing the stairs so that DC water can access the pipe that is under the stairs, and fix it (which they are responsible for doing.

      Basically OP has some really bad luck – the clog or whatever is going to require some demolition and rebuilding of the stairs because they are right over the blockage.

  • NorthByNE

    OP – Could you provide more details about what is wrong with your sewer, is it just a blockage or did the plumber scope it and see a collapsed pipe? Is DC Water just going to snake the drain or are they replacing a running trap or other juncture?

    We recently had to have our front yard excavated by DC water to replace a 100 year old trap that was restricted to 1″ of flow due to corrosion and other disgusting substances. If they have to replace a similar trap or juncture and it happens to be located under your stairs, there isn’t much you can do except pay to remove the stairs and then have the city deal with the pipe. If it is simply a blockage, it should be possible to snake or waterjet from either the interior or an exterior cleanout (if you have one).

  • B’Dale Res

    They dug into the stairs of neighbors around the corner from me a few months back, and then repaired them after construction. You will need to deal with a few different folks at DC Water. I have had numerous issues with them over the years and everyone always said something different, but ultimately it always worked out. It just took a lot of work and patience to deal with the lacking professional and knowledge of DC Water reps.

  • NorthByNE

    Look at DC Code Chapter 21-202:

    202.2 The Department shall maintain all public sewer pipes from the street sewers to the property line.

    202.3 If a portion of the structure (such as a porch, vault, or footing) projects beyond the property line, the Department shall maintain the sewer connection only to the outermost structural projection of the premises.

    202.4 All pipes and appurtenances on private property shall be maintained by and at the expense of the property owner.

    202.5 When action is necessary to expedite or facilitate the maintenance of a sewer connection, the Department may perform maintenance or repair work on private property if agreed to in advance by the property owner. The cost of the work, including overhead expenses, shall be paid by the property owner.

  • kitty

    Homeowners are typically responsible for the service lines running up to their homes. It’s why many people have water quality problems: they lack the financial resources for expensive projects such as the one your encountering now.

  • PetwMom2

    I had a sewage blockage recently, which backed up sewage into my home (ewwww). I paid a plumber $600 (negotiated down from $850) to remove the blockage, which he was clear was off of my property/under the sidewalk. He called DC Water to report the blockage and location of it. I filed a claim with DC Water for the plumber’s bill and damage. They assigned someone that week, who was lovely, but she told me that DC Water would only pay if DC Water had previously had notice of the issue. Apparently there is some system that DC Water employees maintain, but of course there was no record of any previous blockage at my address. I asked her for a statutory/regulatory citation about this supposed notice requirement, and she said she’s been asked that before (gotta love DC lawyers), but that she had never been able to find one. It was insanely frustrating, though much less so than demolishing stairs, to be sure.

  • G

    It experienced something similar but it wasn’t under out steps. They sounded as if they would be the ones to bust out the stairs but they said it in a tone that sounded like it was being used to dissuade us from asking them to move forward. My understanding is that legally they are responsible for anything after the pipe leaves the foundation. It took almost a year for the problem to be resolved. Best of luck as you venture down this path of dealing with DC Water. Hopefully you wont be on a first name basis with the crews and customer service like we were.


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