Who Likes the Smell of Justice?

Case Study: landlord forced to face and remedy a hazardous situation.

Here’s a fun one. The call was from a company that rents their building from a landlord. It was a report of an overwhelming smell of sewer gas in the building, especially in the middle of the day. I arrived around 1pm, walked through the front door, and man were they right. I’ve been on a lot of sewer gas calls, and the smell was overwhelming throughout the building. It’s a single-story brick building built sometime in the 60s, best we could gather. Wood framed floors with a crawlspace.

Upon inspection in the crawlspace, I found multiple major problems due to plumbing butchery by who we think might have been day laborers the landlord hired, although I could never get them to confirm for sure who they had perform the work. One of the first things I noticed was all the pipe that had been cut out and just left down there instead of being disposed of. Sloppy. Then, onto the REAL problems:

  • There was an abandoned cast iron line where the drainage used to leave the building on the original system that was left uncapped and standing open, allowing sewer gas into the building directly from the sewer.

  • There was a wye (a type of pipe fitting) that was installed directly under the toilet with what looked like an original intent to connect to the shower drain that was never finished and was standing open, also allowing sewer gas directly into the building. During flushing of the toilet, and especially when any clogs of the main trunk line occurred, the raw sewage was dumping out into the crawlspace.

  • The shower drain was just cut and never routed over to the wye. No one uses the shower. It was in its own room with a door and had become a utility closet of sorts. The cleaning crew used the shower to dump their mop buckets, so all of that was draining directly into the crawlspace too.

  • There was an open hub drain trap on a wye off the trunk line that the temperature and pressure relief line from the water heater was piped to. This is against code and was allowing backups to overflow into the crawlspace because it is way below flood level rim.

  • The condensate line from the furnace was dropped directly down into the crawlspace and does not exit the building. It had been draining directly into the crawlspace all summer and who knows for how many summers before that.

Because of all this, there was a large (approximately 12ft x 14ft) area of standing water that was one foot deep or more at its deepest.

All of this was a serious health and safety issue. Sewer gas can cause internal infections to those breathing it, as well as explosions if concentrated enough and ignited. Standing water and drainage overflow, especially from a soil line, breeds innumerable bacteria, causes mold, and attracts insect activity.

Upon report of this to the tenant, I was informed that they have had many problems with the landlord not resolving major issues and were even considering suing. They submitted my report to the property management company and put me in direct contact with someone who communicated between the actual owner of the building and me. Upon reading my report, his only response was “just cap the shower drain” with no reference to ANY of the major issues. I emphatically re-emphasized the severity of the issue, even resubmitting and re-explaining my report. We involved code enforcement as well for good measure, and they were also appalled.

All of this forced the landlord to have the situation fixed, which included a licensed and insured plumbing company to fix the drainage and a water/sewage removal company who also discovered mold that had to be remediated. The office staff had to evacuate the building to work in a rented space for almost two weeks, which the landlord also had to pay for.

When I was a service plumber, I used to joke that sewage calls “smelled like money,” but now in my role as an independent plumbing inspector, I finished this particular job thinking “now THAT smells like justice.”

Are you in a similar situation or even think you might be? Call us!