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Think before you flush the toilet.

Christmas 2015 is upon us. This is the time most of us slow down and enjoy the festive season and the Aussie summer. But please think before you flush. We are here to help you with any plumbing emergency over the Christmas holidays.

A blocked drain can be caused by putting the wrong things down your sinks, pipes and toilets. This can leave you with an expensive plumbing bill to unblock your pipes. It can also lead to an increase in the amount of waste moving through our sewage treatment works at Malabar, Bondi and Manly.

These extra items have to be screened out, dumped in bins and trucked off to a landfill site. Unsuitable flushed items can lead to sewer overflows and problems in the sewer mains which are simply caused by small items getting caught and blocking the network.

Don't do it.

Don’t do it.

An overflowing sewer main in your property or worse, in your home, is very unpleasant. So, keep it simple and flush only the three Ps….. pee, poo and paper.

Common pipelines; easements, ownership and liability #3

Common walls and common pipes

One recurring topic of 2010 is the Ownership and liability of common water, sewer and gas pipes.
When we send out an emergency response team to a ruptured gas or water pipeline or an overflowing sewer, the first thing our team thinks about is rescuing the property under threat.
Often, it is after the emergency, that ownership and liability of the problem are hotly debated.
This series of 3 blog posts is aimed at clarifying some of that debate.

Our friends at the Law Reform Commission have helped to clarify this interesting subject and in part it reads:

LIABILITY FOR COSTS

Role of the Water Board

An important and related issue that was raised in DP 22, in respect of utility services, is establishing liability for the repair and maintenance costs of common service pipes for individual users. The problem only really exists in respect of joint sewer services, because the Water Board will absorb the costs of repair and maintenance of water services (joint or single) within the areas of its operation. In those cases where the Board does not assume responsibility, it can still do the repair work itself and then issue notices for payment to the users of the service. The Water Board Act 1987 (NSW) does not contain any guidelines in respect of apportioning the costs of the work carried out.

The Water Board does not assume the same level of responsibility in respect of sewage services. A liability policy similar to the water supply policy (as discussed above) was considered for sewage services, but was rejected as too expensive. Where the Water Board is aware that work needs to be done on a joint sewer service, the Board will issue a defect notice requiring the users to repair the service within a certain period of time. Sometimes repair is ordered to take place within 24 hours, if the damaged service is deemed to be a health risk. It may also be the case that the users of that service realise that the service is in need of repair and attend to the repairs prior to receiving a notice from the Board.

Existing guidelines for apportioning costs

There are no guidelines to assist the owners in dividing the cost of repairs, although DP 22 argued that Regulation 9 of the Plumbing and Drainage Regulation (September 1989) could be interpreted as making owners jointly responsible for the maintenance of their water service pipe, sewer or storm water drain.8 Some users may argue that they were not responsible for any damage to the service and thus refuse to pay anything; other users may argue that the cost of repair should be divided equally, regardless of which users were directly affected, on the basis that the service is jointly owned; and others may consider the amount charged to be excessive and only wish to pay an amount they consider appropriate. Although a recommended rate may be obtained from the Master Plumbers Association, this rate is not a standard or enforceable rate and the final figure charged may be higher or lower depending on the circumstances.

In practice, one user (usually the person most affected by overflow from the blockage) often pays for the repairs and is then forced to seek contribution from the other users, and when payment is not forthcoming, he or she may be forced to litigate for the recovery of the money. Whilst a user may wish to claim equally against each of the other users of the service, it is difficult to prove what their contribution should be. A plumber may be retained to give expert advice about who or what caused the damage to the service. This lack of legislative direction stands in sharp contrast to the specific contributions that unit owners of a Strata Titles plan are required to provide by way of levy where maintenance and repair of the common property is necessary.

Common pipelines; easements, ownership and liability #2

Common walls and common pipes

One recurring topic of 2010 is the Ownership and liability of common water, sewer and gas pipes.

When we send out an emergency response team to a ruptured gas or water pipeline or an overflowing sewer, the first thing our team thinks about is rescuing the property under threat. Often, it is after the emergency that ownership and liability of the problem are hotly debated.

This series of 3 blog posts is aimed at clarifying some of that debate.

Our friends at the Law Reform Commission have helped to clarify this interesting subject and in part it reads:

A user of a service may attempt to disconnect the joint service and force other users of the service to bear the cost of a direct connection to the main service. Such action will however, be illegal unless conducted in accordance with the Water Board Act 1987 (Water Board (Plumbing and Drainage ) Regulation 1989),2 or a court order declaring that the common user of the service has a right to discontinue the service.

The creation of permanent rights of access is seen as a means of avoiding problems of access in respect of utility services, and applications have been made to the courts over the years to have access to and over utilities such as water pipes and sewers recognised as easements of necessity. The courts have, however, gone to considerable lengths to hold that although such an easement may be considered by a landowner to be essential for the reasonable enjoyment of property, it is not an easement of necessity, because at law, easements over such services are not considered necessary to the land itself.

Although DP 22 raised the possibility of statutory recognition of these “trespassing” services as a means of rectifying the problem, the Board of Surveyors pointed out in their submission that few authorities know with any exactitude the location of their service lines. Consequently, the Board of Surveyors opposes the creation of statutory easements over them until such time as they are properly defined on title. The Commission agrees that such a step may be expensive and premature at this stage. It would seem desirable however, that steps are taken in the long term by the relevant authorities to locate such services, properly record them and establish the appropriate rights over them.