Pipe down and pay for your sewer line

You are responsible for the plumbing on your property, even if you believe the municipality should maintain the pipes, especially those that are connected to the sewers.

Moyra Croukamp said the sewer pipe from the manhole in the driveway of her Bothasig property to the one in the street was collapsing.

“I found this out after all the outside drains backed up, and it wasn’t just water that came out. I called the municipality who unblocked the drain and told me the pipe is collapsing and will need to be replaced. But as the manhole is on my property, I must pay for all repairs, as it has nothing to do with the City of Cape Town,” Ms Croukamp said.

“General home maintenance should not include sewer pipes, in my opinion, and as the council installed it and I pay my bills, I feel they should repair it. But I got nowhere. I did get some quotes to replace the pipe, but they were all from R17 000 and up, not at all possible for a pensioner.

“I asked the municipality if they would repair it for me and I could arrange a payment plan, they said no. I explained that as the pipe is collapsing, a lot of water is being wasted in a city already struggling with drought and as waste was also coming out it posed a serious health risk. But nothing changed their minds,” said Ms Croukamp, who also contacted her ward councillor, Helen Carstens, who sent someone out to investigate. But the result was the same.

“One employee told me this type of thing is very common and as a result there are many unrepaired pipes in Cape Town, and a lot of water waste as people cannot afford the repairs. I told Ms Carstens what the workers had said and asked her to use her influence to get the City to agree to a payment scheme so homeowners can get repairs done by the municipality and pay them off. She did not reply to my suggestion, except to say she cannot influence the municipality’s billing system,” said Ms Croukamp, wondering what is the responsibility of the government and the municipality when it comes to sanitation, and to the water waste issue when there is a drought.

“I have appealed for help everywhere I could think of, and even offered to pay off the repairs, although I think it should be the municipality’s responsibility,” Ms Croukamp said.

Actually, I agree with her, and Ms Croukamp doesn’t have recourse under the Consumer Protection Act, thanks to the short-sightedness of trade and industry minister, Rob Davies, who has exempted most municipalities from its provisions. So in this case, I think the cliché, you can’t fight City Hall is apt.

But back to Ms Croukamp who said she had to pay the plumber twice to unblock the collapsing pipe. “The municipality has also been twice and the pipe is still collapsing. It’s only a matter of time before it goes completely and sewage comes out again. I have no idea what to do – please, can you advise me?”

Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for area north, said the City was aware of Ms Croukamp’s problem and did another site inspection to confirm “whether our understanding of the current situation still applies”.

“There is nothing wrong with the municipal sewer main, nor with the sewer connection to the property. The boundary chamber is also clear. The problem Ms Croukamp is experiencing is with her private sewer pipes, which are not maintained by the City and were not installed by the City of Cape Town either.

“The City went beyond the call of duty by clearing her private blockage but advised her on more than one occasion that it is not our responsibility to maintain private plumbing and that she needed to get a private plumber to do the repairs,” said Ms Little, who did not clearly explain why homeowners should be responsible for repairing sewer pipes on their own properties. Nor did she address the water waste issue or say how prevalent collapsing sewer pipes are in Cape Town.

Ms Croukamp confirmed that the municipal guys did come: they peeped down a drain hole, and took some pictures.

“I was not aware that the City did not install the sewer pipe originally. I had no idea that anyone else is even allowed to. They did advise me twice to get a private plumber to repair the collapsing pipe. I told them I cannot afford one, and asked the municipality to repair it for me and let me pay them off. They said they do not do this. I got quotes from private plumbers, but cannot afford the least of them. My insurance does not cover this. I asked Ms Carstens to try to persuade the municipality to do the repairs and let me pay them off. Not only because of any health risks but also because of water wastage. She could not persuade them either.

“Firstly, the municipality didn’t ever tell me that they did not install these pipes, I had no idea.

“I understand they do not maintain private plumbing, but surely sewer pipes do not fall under private? They are also aware that many people in the Western Cape are having the same trouble. They are equipped to repair these with no hassle. Why will they not allow ratepayers to get such major things done and let us pay them off? Considering our drought conditions, one would think they would be more than willing to help.

“What can I do, as a pensioner with a limited budget, to get these repairs done? Obviously, they are essential, but my options are extremely limited,” Ms Croukamp said.

Well, not much, unless she has an uncle in the plumbing business, who is prepared to help her.