What to Do If There Are Roots in Your Rental Property Pipes.



Your tenant calls you to say there is something wrong with the plumbing. Despite their best efforts with Draino, vinegar, and plunging, the drains are slowed or fully stopped, and they don’t know what to do.

You nod sagely and send a plumber with a drain snake to clear whatever the blockage. You suspect there’s a wad of paper or, at worst, built-up mineral scale in there. But when your plumber reports back, you discover there are tree roots in the pipes. What do you do?

The good news is that this is not an unusual problem. The bad news is that it’s pretty serious, and your tenants will need support while you conduct serious plumbing repairs.  Don’t worry, this guide will help you navigate how to deal with tree roots in your rental property’s underground pipes.


Why Tree Roots Grow Into Pipes

Roots seek water. They don’t care of the water is dirty drain water or fresh spring water, they just want water. If even a tiny leak or drop of condensation is on the outside of buried pipes, a tree root the size of a thread will tendril in, then grow larger as it drinks water from your drain lines. This can result in swollen tree roots that eventually break and/or completely block underground drain lines in a rental home.


Tree Roots Can Be Shrunk with Root Remover

Your plumber will likely suggest root remover as the first step. Root remover is a safe chemical compound that causes tree roots to shrivel up and retract from your pipes. This can clear a blockage and, in some cases, may solve the plumbing problem in a matter of weeks. The chemical breaks down the root material to allow your tenant’s drain lines to flow again.


Underground Pipe Repair

Of course, it is also quite possible that the roots have damaged your rental home’s underground pipes, and they will need to be repaired. Your plumber can provide an inspection to identify where the problem is. From there, you will need to unearth the pipe and replace the damaged section to prevent drain water from escaping into the yard where the root initially started.


Install a Root Shield

While you’re down there, pipe repairs are a good opportunity for a landlord to have a root shield installed to protect pipes from root intrusion in the future. Your plumber can help you choose the right size and material to install a root shield along the length of the pipe under the yard.


Taking Care of Your Tenants During Pipe-Root Repairs

The course of repairing roots in the pipes can take a few weeks. This means it’s also important to assess whether your tenants need additional support while repairs are ongoing. Did the root block the sewer main or just one section of the home’s drain capabilities?

If your tenants still have a working kitchen and at least one working bathroom, you can ask them to wait out repairs. However, if your rental home’s drains are completely blocked, you can take care of your tenants in a few ways.

  • Discount partial rent for the percent of the month the house is not livable
    • This can give your tenants a financial cushion for a hotel or temporary alternate housing.
  • Allow tenants to break the lease.
    • If repairs will take a month or more (time scale may be subject to state laws)
  • Provide funds/alternate housing.
    • You can put your tenants up somewhere nearby, if they agree, while repairs take place.

You can waive rent for the days the property is not livable, allow tenants to break the lease, or put them up somewhere else.


Check Your State Laws

If the house will be in an unlivable state for more than one week, check your state and local laws. Most states have minimum liability requirements, and there may be guidelines for how landlords can compensate tenants when major repairs become necessary.


Recovering from Roots In Your Rental Property Pipes

If you discover roots in your rental property pipes, this is a serious issue, but one that can be repaired. In some cases, you can simply shrink away the tree roots with a chemical treatment. In a worst-case scenario, it may take a few weeks of repairs to remove the roots and repair the pipe. If the home is temporarily unlivable, work with your tenants to determine the best living solution.

A skilled property manager can be invaluable in this type of situation. To learn more about how to handle rental home repair emergencies, Leaf Management an help. Contact us for a consultation.