Old rules flushed down the drain; What lies beneath is often overlooked by owners. But it shouldn't be, says property law expert Catherine Davies.
DRAINS and sewers are hardly likely to be top of most homeowners' lists when it comes to matters of importance, but they should be aware of a major change to the laws governing them.
The Water Industry (Scheme for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 implemented a major change in the responsibility for, and ownership of, private sewers and lateral drains.
The regulations came into force in July 2011 and had the effect of transferring ownership of private sewers and lateral drains connected to the public sewerage system on July 1, 2011, to the relevant water company on October 1 last year.
Prior to October 2011, all sewers - where the drains for two or more properties combine - laid before 1937 were the responsibility of the water companies by virtue of the Public Health Act 1936. Lengths of sewers laid since then between houses and the public sewer were in private ownership and the maintenance responsibility rested with the house owner. Owners often found themselves with unexpected bills and repairs tended to be carried out only when problems arose, rather than there being any planned maintenance.
Since October 2011, all private sewers are owned by the water companies and lateral drains - the disposal pipes extending beyond the boundary of a property that take sewerage away - also transferred to the water companies. Drains between individual properties and the private sewer remain private and the responsibility of the individual owner.
Sewers and lateral drains were transferred regardless of their condition and the cost of their repair and maintenance will be passed on to owners through an increase in sewerage bills.
These changes do not apply to sewerage systems that do not connect to the public network, such as private cesspits or septic tanks, surface water sewerage systems discharging directly into water courses or highway drains.
Where private sewers and lateral drains were connected to the public sewerage system after July 1, 2011, the transfer to the water companies has not yet taken place. These sewers and lateral drains are covered by a supplemental scheme and will be transferred when Section 42 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 comes into force, which is expected to be this October. Section 42 will also introduce a new requirement for housebuilders to enter into an agreement with the water companies for adoption before any newly-constructed sewer or lateral drain is connected to the public sewer. The adoption agreement will impose standards of construction for all new sewers and lateral drains.
The changes may have an impact on future development. Developments over or near to a public sewer generally require consent from the relevant water company, known as a build-over agreement. The transfer of ownership of private sewers means that a higher proportion of developments will need consent and where damage is caused to a public sewer as a result of the work undertaken as part of the development, then the liability for repair will rest with the house owner. ? Catherine Davies is a solicitor in the property department at Ward Hadaway law firm in Newcastle. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on 0191 204 4170.