Sewer Line Lateral

Sewer Line Lateral Damaged: Who Bears the Burden?

Imagine waking up one morning to find a sinkhole forming right outside your home, swallowing everything in its path. As panic sets in, you realize the cause—a broken lateral sewer line. This scenario is not as far-fetched as it may seem, especially for owners of older homes. Sewer line issues can wreak havoc on properties, leading to costly repairs and environmental hazards. But who exactly is liable for these broken sewer lines? In this article, we delve into homeowners’ responsibility, the materials used in lateral lines, maintenance tips, and the best methods for repairing these crucial components of our plumbing systems. Get ready to unravel the mysteries of broken lateral sewer lines and discover how to protect your property.

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What is a Sewer Line Lateral?

A sewer lateral, commonly referred to as a lateral or sewer lateral, is the pipe section connecting a property’s plumbing system to the main sewer line located in the street or a nearby access point to the sewer system. The main purpose of a lateral is to facilitate the transportation of wastewater and sewage from a property’s plumbing system to either the main sewer line or septic system for proper treatment or disposal. Typically situated underground, the lateral effectively conveys all the waste generated within the property, including sinks, toilets, showers, and other plumbing fixtures. A Sewer line lateral must be properly installed and maintained to prevent blockages, leaks, and other issues leading to costly repairs and environmental hazards. They are crucial components of a property’s plumbing system. 

Higher Risk for Older Homes

While newer homes don’t face as much concern regarding their sewer lines, the same cannot be said for older homes. It is common to witness sewer line breaks under roadways, resulting in sinkholes. This indicates that pipes wear out over time. Recently, a notice was received from a company offering insurance for sewer lines connected to the street, signaling a market for sewer line replacements, with insurance companies recognizing the need.

Trenchless sewer line, Sewer line lateral repair

Misconceptions Regarding Liability

Some homeowners mistakenly believe that the sewer pipe connected to the street is the city’s responsibility. However, it is important to note that the property owner is liable for the lateral sewer pipe connected to the city sewer main, even if it extends beyond the property line or falls within an easement.

Material Composition of Sewer Line Lateral 

A Sewer line lateral, also known as sewer laterals or sewer main laterals. The lines get constructed using materials such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), cast iron, or clay. The choice of material depends on various factors, including local building codes, soil conditions, the size of the lateral line, and the expected traffic load.

The Most Common Material is PVC

Many contractors widely use PVC for lateral lines because of its lightweight nature, ease of installation, and resistance to corrosion and root intrusion. Cast iron is another popular choice as it is durable and long-lasting, although it is heavier and more expensive than PVC. Due to their susceptibility to cracking and breaking, clay pipes, commonly used in sewer laterals, especially in older homes, now homeowners replace them with more reliable pipes.

Know Your Building Codes and Regulations

Local building codes and regulations also influence the selection of materials for sewer laterals. Certain areas may require specific materials to ensure the sewer laterals meet safety and durability standards. Thus, consult a licensed plumbing contractor or building inspector to determine the appropriate material for your lateral line.

Responsibility for Breaks Beyond the Property Line

In the event of a leaking sewer line, a licensed plumbing contractor can inspect the sewer main for breaks or cracks using a video camera inserted into the pipe. The homeowner is responsible for repairing the sewer Line lateral if the broken pipe is between the house and the property line. However, if the compromised pipe extends beyond the property line, the homeowner should contact the City’s Sewer Emergency Line. A completed inspection could start shortly after the call, although it may take up to 24 hours in some cases.

The Importance of Lateral Sewer Line Maintenance

When purchasing a home, have the sewer line lateral inspected by a licensed plumbing contractor. According to the City of San Diego, root intrusion and cooking grease are the leading causes of public and private sewer spills. The responsibility of maintaining the lateral sewer line lies with the property owner. Keeping it clean and free from obstructions can save significant money in the long run.

Methods for Addressing a Broken Lateral Sewer Line

The most suitable method for repairing a broken sewer line depends on various factors, such as the location and extent of the damage, the age of the pipes, and the soil conditions. Common methods used for repairing a broken sewer line:


Pipelining, also known asenchless sewer line. This method inserts a liner coated with resin into the damaged pipe and inflates it to create a new, seamless pipe within the old one. Once the resin cures, the liner hardens, forming a durable new pipe lasting several decades.

Pipe bursting: 

This method entails breaking the damaged pipe apart and pulling a new pipe through the space created by the old one. Typically, new pipes made of materials such as PVC or HDPE (high-density polyethylene) because they resist corrosion and root intrusion.


In some cases, the only viable solution for repairing a broken sewer line is excavating and replacing the damaged section. While this method is more invasive and expensive compared to others, it may be necessary, especially for extensive damage or deteriorated pipes.

Spot repair: 

This procedure involves fixing small sections of a damaged pipe, such as cracks or holes. It entails cutting out the damaged section and replacing it with a new pipe segment.

We recommend consulting with a sewer repair specialist or licensed plumbing contractor to determine the best method for repairing a broken sewer line in your specific situation. They can assess the damage and recommend the most suitable and cost-effective solution.

Professionals Know Best Practices

In conclusion, the liability for a broken lateral sewer line rests with the property owner. It is important to properly install and maintain your sewer line lateral to avoid costly repairs and environmental hazards. Consulting with professionals and following best practices for sewer line maintenance can help ensure the smooth functioning of the lateral sewer line and prevent potential issues.

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