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Who is responsible for a clogged drain: You or your landlord?

A clogged drain is a common problem New Yorker renters face, but fixing it is best left to your super or landlord, our expert says. 

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Question:

I'm a New York City renter whose shower is starting to back up. Am I responsible for cleaning my apartment’s clogged drains, or is that my super’s job?

Answer:

Many residential buildings in New York City—and their plumbing systems—are old, so if you live in one of them you can expect a clogged drain in your sink or bathtub to happen. And when that does happen, your nice, hot shower can quickly go from “ahh” to “ugh” as water starts rising past your feet. 

But a perk of being a renter is that your super or landlord is responsible for many of your apartment’s repairs, including clogged pipes. If you own your place, however, those things are pretty much all on you—to handle yourself or contact a professional to deal with. 

"Generally, a blocked drain will be handled by your landlord. Mostly they prefer you let them handle it as opposed to trying to deal with it yourself because you could potentially damage the pipes,” says J’Nell Simmons, CEO of LandlordsNY, a social network for vetted landlords and property owners that own and manage more than 1 million residential apartments across the city. 

[Editor's Note: Realty Bites tackles your NYC rental questions. Have a query for our experts? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.] 

If you think a drain-clearing product like Drano would be an easy fix—think again. Simmons says these products are corrosive to pipes. 

“If used repeatedly, they can cause your pipes to burst, leaving you with a much larger problem,” she adds. “Don't use Drano or similar products. Call your landlord or super.”

As backups can be a normal occurrence in city buildings, supers and landlords know what to do.

“Every good super is outfitted with a manual snake or sometimes a larger, motorized snake to handle these issues,” Simmons says.

You can get into trouble if you are repeatedly flushing things that are not meant to be flushed, such as hygiene products or non-dissolvable items like grease or food fat, and causing back-ups. You may even end up in housing court, she says.

“Most landlords are understanding and know backups happen, but if they pull your kid's toys or other things that simply don’t belong out of the pipes more than once, don’t be surprised if your landlord asks for a reimbursement, or, in very extreme cases, moves to evict,” Simmons says. 

The most common problems LandlordsNY members see are caused by hair and feminine-hygiene products being flushed, Simmons says, and Brick Underground couldn’t help but ask what she's heard was the nastiest thing they saw in a city drain.

“The grossest thing I've heard of is a ‘fatberg,’” she says. “Look it up, there was one in Queens, and it's the result of flushing items that don’t belong.” 

(Brick Underground looked it up and was pretty grossed out: A fatberg up is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a very large mass of solid waste in a sewage system, consisting especially of congealed fat and personal hygiene products that have been flushed down toilets.”)

Officials said the Queens fatberg of 2017 was mostly caused by improperly disposing cooking grease. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection says the proper way to deal with grease (cooled cooking oil, poultry or meat fat) is to put it in a sealed, non-recyclable container with your regular garbage. The department also says you should use paper towels to wipe any residual grease or oil from your dishes, pots and pans before washing them.