Toilet Gurgles in Apartment Complex

Discussion in 'Drain Cleaning' started by scoobydo, Oct 29, 2006.

  1. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    This is a little long, but PLEASE, I need some advice.

    So we live in a 3 story apartment complex.
    Ever since we moved in, one of our bathroom toilets periodically gurgles.
    When it does, the water level goes down. During this time, if you try to flush the toilet, the water just backs up in the bowl.
    It will eventually slowly go down or sometimes flush very suddenly.
    About 2 months ago our toilet started spewing sewage into our bathroom.
    I also had sewage coming out of the sink and bathtub!!
    I finally was able to stop it by plugging up the toilet, but not before I had about an inch of sewage water in my bathroom.
    The complex had to replace carpets and send professional cleaners out.
    They claimed that since we were on the first floor, there must have been a clog somewhere and we were the unlucky ones since we are on the first floor.
    Well, the problem still persists. The toilet gurgles every couple of days.
    I'm afraid to leave my apartment!!
    Whenever I do, I plug up the toilet just in case. The apartment complex says there is nothing wrong as their maintenance crew cannot find a clog anywhere.
    Is something wrong with the plumbing? The building is only 4 years old and rather new. Perhaps something was connected wrong?
    Should sewage have spilled out of the sink and bathtub?
    I do not have any problems with my other toilet and it has never gurgled.
    What should I do?

    Edit:
    I remembered some more details. I can sometimes hear water going through the walls. I assume that one of the neighbors upstairs flushed the toilet or released some bath water. This is another time when the toilet will gurgle. Also, during my toilet sewage spill, the water was warm? As if somebody released some bath water and that was the reason for the backup?
    Still, don't apartments have recourse for this, like a one-way valve (if one exists? I'm no plumber so I wouldn't know)
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2006
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,815
    Location:
    New England
    To me, it appears that there is a partial blockage. It allows things to go down except when there is a large volume of water, such as when someone is doing a load of wash, or emptying a bathtub, then, because of the volume it can't all go down fast enough, and it backs up at the lowest point - your apartment.

    The alternatives to this are that the pipes weren't sized properly, and they just can't handle the volume of all of the fixtures, and it just backs up.

    The gurgles could be that the vents are not designed properly, or are plugged up.

    One of the pros will eventually critique my thoughts!
  3. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    Another detail I just remembered:
    On the night of the sewage backup, my wife recalls hearing the upstairs neighbor flushing the toilet like 20 times she says.
    The upstairs neighbor has like 5 cats.
    During the sewage backup, as I was waddling in the nasty sewage, I noticed that some of the "pieces" looked similar to cat feces.
    Could the people upstairs have had the stupid idea of flushing cat liter down the toilet? If so, what kind of damage or blockage could that have caused?
    I say this to try to find an answer, but the gurgling problem was there even before they moved in.
    I have no proof they did this, I am just trying to remember all the details.

    Also, the apartment complex has underground parking. All the pipes for the complex are clearly visable on the ceiling of the parking structure.
    During the backup, I went downstairs to the parking garage and saw water dripping from the pipes directly underneath our apartment causing a large pool on the floor.

    I really don't think the blockage is in our apartment as we were the very first tenants to this apartment (as I mentioned it was newly built).
    We rarely use this bathroom as it is our second bathroom.
    Should I have them call out a professional plumber or the contractor themselves to check things out?
  4. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

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    2,713
    Location:
    Central Florida
    I'd move. .
  5. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    Why do you say that? Is the problem not fixable?
  6. Mike50

    Mike50 DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    699
    Location:
    Southern California
    Most Cat litter is clay based. With 5 cats you are talking about 40 pounds of clumping litter per month.

    If you don't see cat litter in the main trash receptacle eventually----they are flushing it. Pretty hard to not find or smell that much litter (cat urine=ammonia).

    "Flushable Litter" is a big selling point for some major brands. (arm and Hammer)

    I am Not a plumber nor do I play one on TV. :)


    Mike
  7. plumber1

    plumber1 Plumber

    Messages:
    1,423
    Location:
    Florida
    Get someone to Snake out that portion of the darned sewer.

    You have a sewer obstruction or plug. It's only going to get worse.........
  8. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    Would they do that from my apartment, or underneath where all the pipes are at?
  9. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Messages:
    2,713
    Location:
    Central Florida
    While that was a tongue-in-cheek remark, unless your apartment management is unusually attentive and competent this could be a long slog to get fixed. At the minimum, document the hell out of everything (times, dates, pictures, correspondence) so that you will have good grounds to break the lease if it comes to that.
  10. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    Well, this is pretty upscale place and management is pretty attentive.
    They have been really attentive to this issue since it happened.
    So again, what should my recourse be? Should professional plumbers come to my unit or should they be looking at the pipes under the building?
  11. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Messages:
    2,713
    Location:
    Central Florida
    My recourse would be to document everything -- every gurgle, and any other hints that might apply -- to aid the complex management and tradesmen who show up to work on the problem, and let the management handle it -- that's what you're paying them for. Don't let them ignore you, however.
  12. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    I will do that. I documented everything during the sewage backup, going as far as saving all e-mails and actual mail correspondance from the complex manager.
    I have everything in a nice folder as well as very graphic pictures of the sewage spill.
    So I am safe in assuming that this is a partial blockage or clog that is causing this?
    Also, is it common to have sewage come out of the sink and bathtub during a backup?
  13. molo

    molo New Member

    Messages:
    840
    Location:
    cold new york
    Hey Scooby,
    What did your apt. owner/manager do to compensate you for this mess? I own/manage a couple of apts. and we had this happen to someone. Sewer backed up through the tub, he called me. As soon as I arrived I said "let's go". And I took him to a nearby hotel, and put him up for the night. Then I went back to the apt. and cleaned up the mess myself. I disenfected the floors (which were not carpet luckily) and anywhere the sewage had gone. This is why I have no problem finding tenants because I take care of them like they should be taken care of. I hope that you didn't clean up the mess yourself, and if you did I would ask the property owner if you could give them an invoice for your time in doing the work. Most rental owners are responsible for maintenance. (all leases and agreements vary).

    Anyway, It sounds like plumbing is too small, there is still a plug, or your upstairs neighbors are going to screw you over everytime they start treating a drain like a black hole.

    Good Luck and Please report back with your results,
    Molo
  14. scoobydo

    scoobydo New Member

    Messages:
    13
    I called and they sent out somebody that night to clean up the mess and pull the carpet. The next day they sent out a professional cleaning crew. Once everything was dry, they sent out a carpet cleaner to steam clean and disinfect the carpets near the area. We were inconvenienced for about 4 days, but I think they did a decent job of handling the situation.
    We lost a lot of things in the bathroom due to it being heavily soiled or wood being saturated and ruined. All toll I think we lost about $400 which is not that bad. They only offered to compensate us for $100 off our next rent. I found that kind of insulting considering we pay $1600 in rent (bay area sucks, I know!) and instead returned their letter saying to keep it and to intern focus there attention on solving the problem.
    I will meet with them tomorrow and see what happens. I'm also writting a letter of our conversation tomorrow to document it.
    I'm sure it cant be small pipes as our master bedroom bathroom is fine and has never had any problems. It has to be a partial clog somewhere.
    Seeing as your a manager, do I have any recourse if a backup happens again? Or am I SOL?
  15. molo

    molo New Member

    Messages:
    840
    Location:
    cold new york
    I'm guessing the owners/managers might have suggested that you get "renters insurance". And this is what I would reccomend. Many leases contain items explaining that the owners have liabilty insurance for damage to the structure, but not for the occupants possesions. This is why I would reccomend a renters or tenants insurance policy. They are cheap. $70-100 a yr. and your possesions will be covered in the event of another backup, or waterleak, or anything that has happened in the building that you aren't responsible for.
    As far as recourse against the owners, Keep it simple, call them on the phone and ask them what you can do to collect your losses if the problem happens again.
    If they don't suggest acceptable solutions, and you haven't found comfort in a tenants insurance policy, then I would change course. I would document everything, I would even get them to sign something acknowledging that it happened once and what they offered you. (you could even tell them it's for your renters insurance company). Photo Document your possesions in the bathroom. Photo document the problem if it happens again.

    Remember this: Stay out of court if you can! Even small claims court costs you time and money in preparing for it. Usually you can resolve issues like this through calm discussions while maintaining your composure.
    Also, I understand you were insulted by his offer. I would have taken the accepted the money and still followed up with a letter of dissatisfaction with the services they provided. I am surprised they offered you anthing at all, and didn't simply raise the renters insurance question. Never turn down money offered to you from a landlord for losses you truly incurred. He's sitting at dinner right now bragging that he offered a tenant a $100 bill and he didn't take it.

    Good Luck,
    Molo
  16. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051
    In the last apartment complex I managed, we had a similar problem in one of our buildings. It was an ongoing issue, because one of the main drain lines had partially collapsed. We couldn't fix the problem without moving everyone out of the building, so we had a licensed plumber come out and snake the line every three weeks ad infinitum. We never had a backup again in that building.

    I think your management needs to try this preventive maintenance approach. Maybe start off snaking the line every 2 months and see if the gurgling stops.
  17. plumber1

    plumber1 Plumber

    Messages:
    1,423
    Location:
    Florida
    Dig the damn thing up.......dig it up.
  18. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Messages:
    2,713
    Location:
    Central Florida
    Odd that you only see the problem in one bathroom. Is that one close to the main stack, perhaps, and the master bath further away? It sounds like waste from upstairs is encountering a clog downstream from your unit, and backing up. The branch line to the affected bath is short enough that the backup overflows through the fixtures, whereas the master bath is far enough away that the backup just fills the waste line to the MB, without overflowing. That's a guess, which you're welcome to disregard... in any case, a description of your waste line topology would be welcome. As I understand it, you're on the bottom floor, so you can see all your pipes in the garage ceiling? They shouldn't be dripping, BTW -- all waste should be contained in the pipes, unless there's an overflow finding its way down to the garage, or there's a leak in the system somewhere.
  19. Mike50

    Mike50 DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    699
    Location:
    Southern California
    When I rented I usually carried a renters/liability policy. Mine also covered
    general liability which is great in case someone sues you for bodily injury.
    It also covered the contents of your car. (clothing, CD's etc.)
    I paid around 120 per year--but that was 20 years ago. Not sure if we are talking about the same coverage.


    Also Scooby--you are in pretty good shape legally no matter what happens.
    The 100 dollar offer is an admission of Liability.
    and Yea-bay area rent is actually worse than Beverly Hills.

    Mike
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2006
  20. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051
    If you're referring to my post, the bad section of pipe was under one of the main structural walls of the building. This building houses 36 apartments on three floors. The solution required moving everyone out of the building for who knows how long, jacking up the whole side of the building, if that is even possible, etc. etc.

    The cost would have been tens of thousands of dollars not including lost rent and damage to the building. The plumber was charging $90 to snake out the building every three weeks from the cleanout in the laundry room to the street. That's about $1600/yr. If you do the math, it was infinitely cheaper that way.
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