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HELP :( Public / Private drain

(21 Posts)
MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 11:26:22

I would really appreciate some MN wisdom.

We had an offer accepted on a Victorian semi that we are both very keen on. We have not exchanged yet but given the seller's indicated timescale for completion/moving I think we'll be aiming to do so within a month.

The Title Deeds showed a restrictive covenant allowing our neighbours to run drainage etc through our land. Our solicitor said this is pretty normal (I think particularly with old houses) as sewage and drainage pipes were laid across back gardens and unless you're the first house in the street it's inevitable that a shared drain will run through your property. So we got comfortable with that.

However searches have started to come back and the Thames Water search has revealed that the sewer in our back garden is unidentified, i.e. nobody knows if it's public or private! The Thames Water map shows all the houses in a (say) 600m radius from our house and you can see that 98% or more of them clearly have public sewers (red) and a small number have private sewers (blue). Our house's sewer is purple though, meaning nobody knows.

I called Thames Water and they said the easiest way to check is by lifting the manhole cover in your garden...but our seller has said she doesn't have one.

Can we (or rather, the seller) force Thames Water to come and establish whether it's public or private? From what Thames Water are telling me it sounds like whoever carries out the inspection will have to enter a neighbouring property and carry out a CCTV inspection. I am not sure how keen the neighbour would be on this (i.e. 'what's in it for me?')

What would you do in our situation?

The house is in London on a crossrail route and for us, it's not so simple as just walking away and waiting for another house to come on the market. If we wait even 6 months I think an equivalent house will be out of our reach financially.

Hufflepuffin Sun 13-Dec-15 13:32:49

You'll only be responsible for the bit that serves only your property, anything shared it Thames water's responsibility. www.thameswater.co.uk/help-and-advice/13963.htm

Could you get indemnity insurance from the seller?

Moving15 Sun 13-Dec-15 14:09:42

I agree with the previous poster, it will ultimately be Thames water's problem from the point the sewer becomes shared. You can get homeserve insurance to cover you for any private problems.

MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 14:41:46

Yep, I've been reading up on it as much as I can and I know we would only be responsible for the non-shared parts (i.e. the bits within our boundaries).

I am not saying we would never buy the house if it was a private sewer, if Thames Water are not responsible for maintaining it then our home insurance would have to step in, I just really want to know one way or the other and I can't think how to find out!

Hufflepuffin do you think indemnity insurance would work? Do you have any experience of this? The seller is going to take out indemnity insurance in respect of an alteration that she doesn't have the building paperwork for (I think it's when the owner before her created a through-lounge but still waiting to hear).

Hufflepuffin Sun 13-Dec-15 14:54:18

I have no idea but your solicitor should know!

PettsWoodParadise Sun 13-Dec-15 17:51:10

Is this being over analysed? I was under the impression that even if is a public sewer the parts on your land are now your responsibility. So whether it is public or private is possibly irrelevant? I don't know enough to advise properly but that is my thought.

MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 19:13:38

PettsWood I think it's the other way round. You used to be responsible for everything in your boundary up to and including the point where your sewer joins your neighbours - from that point on you and your neighbour shared responsibility but it was still private. After 2011 the water boards adopted the vast majority of shared sewers, making them public, and now the only bit most people are responsible for is the actual pipe that connects their own house and nothing else.

MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 19:14:43

*connects their own house to the sewer

PettsWoodParadise Sun 13-Dec-15 19:30:04

Seems there is a difference between drains and sewers (I didn't really know there was a difference!). Generally sewers are resposnsibilty of the water board, drains are responsibility if they are on your land: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/water/water-supply/sewerage/who-is-responsible-for-repairing-drains-and-sewers/ - always exceptions though. Wow should I be worried I find this a bizarrely interesting subject? hmm

MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 20:01:37

Sorry yes, I tend to use the two interchangeably. I just don't understand how NO-ONE CAN KNOW who owns the damn thing and it's freaking me out. You should see the map - we are LITERALLY the only house out of, say 500 Victorian houses, where the water board doesn't know who owns the sewer. Thank you for indulging my new obsession with this topic...

Dungandbother Sun 13-Dec-15 20:11:36

Is it mid terrace? And does TW state they own the house either side?

Send me a link so I can look up my house. I have a close relationship with TW!!!

I am end terrace Victorian row of 6.
The drain run starts (or ends) at my house. It goes under the next 5 houses and then along the alley and into the street.
All 5 houses have BUILT over the drain run. The drain run is over 120 years old.

It is cracked, bumpy and not very good. It blocks frequently.
TW come out and unblock it free of charge every time.
I always have to call as the back up always hits me first being on the end.

They always come out. They always pull baby wipes out someone along (knows which lazy neighbour it is but they deny deny deny)
I have never once in ten years paid a penny for them to do this.

Every man who comes has his own opinion and recommends xy and z. TW never follow it up.

Any of the neighbours could call them out. We would never have to pay to have the run of drains unblocked.

Equally they cannot install water meters as we all share ONE small lead water inlet.

Not sure if any of that was helpful grin

MidnightDexy Sun 13-Dec-15 23:23:48

Dung it's not a mid-terrace it's a semi. It's a street where one side is semis and the other is terraced. We would be the third 'duo' and there are many more after us (so not at the start or the end of the street).

I don't have a link as such because this is all coming to light because of a search my solicitor did (you have to pay for it - it's probably not that expensive, £20 or so I would guess but haven't had my bill from solicitor yet).

The semi next to us (as in the one we are attached to) has a public sewer, and it joins ours - it's one straight line across our two back gardens but ours is purple and theirs is red. The house on the other side of us (the one we'll share a side alleyway with) does not have any sewers shown on its map at all...but I hadn't properly taken that in until you mentioned!

LBOCS2 Mon 14-Dec-15 13:21:09

Fwiw, a camera survey would be about £200 and they should be able to map it for you and see where it joins on to.

The only point at which it'd be your responsibility would be if it serves only your property.

New question... Are they sure there's actually a drain/sewer there? If there's no access to it or details on it?!

Dungandbother Mon 14-Dec-15 15:05:21

I think indemnity is the way forward then. Not as if you can go around lifting drains.

Would you knock on a few doors and ask neighbours for history of heavy rain fall situations?

I only know our street layout because it has flooded. In heavy rain all our man holes blow.
Mine is 1880-1890 though.

Also consider looking at where the gutters go. If they run into the street or a soak away or his could perhaps go into the drains. My neighbours get a rebate as they don't go into the drains. But mine do.

Just another investigatory thought. But Thames are pretty good nowadays with Victorian properties. I think they need to answer the question frankly as to why yours is a different colour.

I had thought that perhaps if I could look mine up it may be same colour as yours but they always come.

Will dig out my purchase paperwork later. Don't remember TW searches though.

MidnightDexy Mon 14-Dec-15 20:05:41

LBOCS2: We're not adverse to paying for a survey (small fry in the grand scheme) but the seller says she has no manholes in her garden and so a survey would depend on other neighbour(s) granting consent.

By the way do you know who could conduct the survey? TW don't seem interested apart from to say they don't know.

Dung: thanks, let me know if you see anything in your plans (if you have time). The guttering point is a good one - we will try to check that.

Jcee Mon 14-Dec-15 21:25:29

We had this when one of the shared drains across the back of the victorian terrace row (we were in the middle of) was blocked and flooding our neighbours garden.

We are also in London and Thames water were uninterested. I called the environment team at the local authority and they were hugely helpful as they had detailed local knowledge, did an inital assessment and chased up contacts at Thames Water.

Turned out there were 2 shared drains across the back of the properties - one for waste and one for run off water, which didn't have a man hole & it was this one which was blocked and causing flooding as another house down the row had mistakenly connected kitchen waste pipes to it.

In the end the local authority forced Thames Water to take responsibility and they sorted the issue and had to build a new man hole, which was done at their cost.

It's slightly different to your issue as we owned the property and were dealing with a problem on behalf of everyone in the terrace, but the local authority might be worth a try?

MidnightDexy Mon 14-Dec-15 21:50:16

That's interesting I will try the Local Authority. My concern is that, for so long as there is not an issue (blockage, flood) they will refuse to come and do anything. However I should at least try. Thanks.

Berthatydfil Mon 14-Dec-15 22:07:00

We had something similar but it was when we we building an extension. We had a manhole inspection hatch in our back garden that would have gone under our proposed extension.
The water cos map said it was a shared rain waster drain and therefore we needed a building over agreement and a manhole inspection hatch in what was going to be our new kitchen. This would have cost ££££ and impacted on our proposed design for the kitchen.
Anyway we lifted up the hatch looked down and the upstream wall was all brick so we were the first in the run and the water cos map was incorrect. We were told this happened a lot.
As a result we rerouted the drains which avoided the inspection hatch in the kitchen and saved £££.
I have to say I'm surprised your vendor doesn't have an inspection hatch on her property as a quick look could verify the accuracy of the water cos map. Or they could go a dye test which is when they run a coloured dye down drains upstream and if the dye shows up you know you are on the same run. We have 2 rain water and foul water (sewerage) I'm sure they should have them on their property.
They haven't built an extension or put a shed or patio over them have they? If they have done that it might be a problem.
Also if there was ever a blockage in your drains it would be very difficult to sort as you would be reliant on neighbours allowing you to rod the drains from their property.

MidnightDexy Tue 15-Dec-15 01:04:42

I've heard that Berthaydfil (i.e. that you are not allowed to build over a manhole anymore). However if and when we extend (that's our long-term plan) we would definitely need a build-over agreement even if our sewer is private because whatever we did would be within 3 metres of a public sewer (assuming the TW map is correct and our adjoining neighbour has a public sewer).

The TW map also shows where the manhole covers are and - although TW said this aspect of the map certainly wasn't 100% reliable - you can see that there does not appear to be a manhole in vendor's garden. It's a PITA but TW said not all houses have them (and from TW's perspective that's not unusual - reasonably common I think).

the original footprint of the house hasn't been altered save a conservatory where I suppose once upon a time the outside loo used to be but a) it's very basic / cheap 'n' cheerful (so no heartache if there was some drain emergency and TW absolutely HAD to rip it down because it had been build over) and b) any and all of our future renovation plans involve getting rid of it so we would definitely find out then!

Interesting to hear your map was wrong though. Are you / were you Thames Water? How did you convince them to come out and check for themselves.

Berthatydfil Tue 15-Dec-15 05:59:05

No I'm in Wales and at the time 15 years ago the local council used to work in partnership with them so they had the maps. They came round and looked down the manhole and agreed we were top of the run it was literally a 5 minute job.
I think at the time building over agreement was a couple of £k and would have also needed engineers calcs etc. I can't recall having any problems getting someone out to check and obviously it was a big cost we were keen to avoid plus the kitchen issue would have been a huge inconvenience,
I'm not sure if that's just a Wales thing st that time though and I think the water company has now taken the work back in house.
It was easier as we were already living there as well so not exactly the same situation as you.
My house was built in the 60s and the map was based on the original plans for the estate. I'm guessing that changes arose which weren't then recorded. Your house is much older so the map might be more accurate.
If there aren't any manholes shown on their maps I guess that's right then.
I would say that a dye test might be cheaper than a camera if you need confirmation of the run of the drains, but you would need permission of both the suspected upper and lower neighbours.

As others have stated an indemnity insurance might be the way to go.

MidnightDexy Tue 15-Dec-15 19:31:07

Thank you v. v. much all.

If indemnity is the way to go (our solicitor is OoO until Monday) then what should we be asking for? I am struggling a little to understand it in my head. E.g. if seller doesn't have planning permission / building control sign-off for removal of an internal wall then you ask for an indemnity because you know and she knows that she doesn't have that permission.

With the sewer, what would we be asking for an indemnity against exactly? Is it the seller's 'fault' no-one knows if the sewer is public or private?

Sorry, struggling to get head around it.

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