A backed up sewer line can be a nightmare for the tenant as well as the landlord, and tree roots can be a culprit. Each week veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi answers questions from other landlords and property managers around the country about their rentals.

Dear Landlord Hank,

Had sewer backing up in one of my rentals. Just had to pay $1,800 to have tree roots removed and sewer line dug up to fix. Had no idea this could be a problem – how do you fix, prevent?


Dear Landlord Dean,

Trees are thirsty and if water is scarce the roots will try to penetrate a water source.

The older style clay drain pipes were a little easier for a tree root to penetrate than the new PVC style pipes but those have been breached also. The root grows in and expands destroying the pipe.

Your plumber can send a camera down to determine the blockage. It may not be a root. If it is a root, plumbers can use a “snake” with a cutting tool on the end to destroy the root and open up the pipe again.

This is a delaying tactic but it sometimes lasts for three or four years before it needs to be done again. That fix could be $300 to $400 each time rather than plumber coming in, digging up pipe and replacing for several thousand.

You can also use a “root killer” chemical treatment in your pipe, another delaying tactic. I’ve never tried that method as it’s not fast and when a drain doesn’t work that’s a real problem.

I don’t know a way to prevent roots from trying to penetrate other than removing any trees anywhere close to the course of your drain line.

If you just had problem repaired with new drain pipe you should be OK for a long time, as far as roots are concerned.


Hank Rossi

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About the author Landlord Hank:

“I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals- maintenance, tenant relations, etc, in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta. “ Visit Hank’s website here.

Dear Landlord Hank: Tenant’s Sewer Line Clogged With Tree Roots

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