Row home style condos, waste water from upstairs unit clogging drains of lower unit?

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Gslenk

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I've gratefully learned a lot from this forum but I'm a bit out of my depth here.

Situation: Helping a buddy rent out a condo. Basically looks like a row home setup (old building), except there's two separate units (two floors each) vertically above each other (and of course matching units on each side, like a row home/townhome).

The bathroom flooded, sink/toilet/shower won't drain, water keeps coming up from the toilet/shower drain. Toilet overflowed, caused "water" to leak into drywall ceiling of the room below, by leak, I mean Niagara falls.

At move in, I emphasized nothing but #1/#2/TP down the toilet. To my knowledge, tenants followed this.

I call an emergency plumber (since I don't live there), pull toilet, snake drain, out comes "flushable baby wipes". I've always known those are not to be flushed, despite the marketing to the contrary.

Plumber says upstairs unit is likely connected to the waste line, unit above could have caused the blockage in the waste stack, and the unit below suffers.

Questions:
1) What are the odds the drains are connected, and this could be the fault of the unit above? Ever seen something like this happen?

2) How can it be (if it can) prevented, seems like if the unit above doesn't comply with the request, or if new tenants move in above.

3) Is there any way to positively determine who is at fault (if no one admits to using the flushable wipes that came out of the drain)?

4) Any idea if this would be covered under renters/homeowners insurance?

5) Related to #2, If there is connected drains (vertically) does that mean there is a shutoff in the lower (my friends unit) that will shutoff water to the above unit, so that if there is a backup, more water can be prevented from entering the system?

6) I'm gonna have to get a "waste water cleanup crew" AND a contractor to clean/remove/sanitize, then repair drywall/etc. Are the one stop shops a ripoff? Roto-rooter said they'd demo and clean and bill insurance, but I need to find a contractor to fix the rest. I'm thinking Servpro for the all in one convenience, but had a family member experience that left a bad taste with me (unrelated situation).
 

WorthFlorida

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Until the walls are opened up will you know how the plumbing is situated. This building was probably built as apartments and therefore parts of the drainage may be shared. A new condo, each unit would have its own plumbing system.

As far as shutoffs valves to a unit is unknown. If each unit has its own water meter, yes there will be one for each unit.

You need to call your insurance company. It depends on the policy exclusions, etc.

I have no experience with national recovery companies. When you own remote properties, you need to have a handyman for general repairs and maintenance work that you can call on. It's not easy to find one but a good one should be able to do drywall repair.
 

Jeff H Young

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If a toilet is overflowing and you didnt flush it, then water is coming from somewhere either being pumped washing machine perhaps or floor above. Niagra falls sounds like its from above . If there was many of these homes built it shouldnt be too hard to find out a basic layout of the DWV and why not find out about cold and hot water system? or was it just a single building 2 units up 2 units down?
The legalitys Im not into even in my home state even the names apartments to me are rental units but I know commonly other places they are often owned. row houses , condos, town homes and 50 states dont know if they are all the same. I have built Apartments that were converted to Condos befor a renter ever lived there. shared piping is common but not always.
Id say since your buddy owns the place he needs to get educated from a reliable source on the details of ownership and who is respoceable for what is it hoa ? how is the shared property managed , who is responceable. Im only guessing these legal issues would vary from state to state or building to building by various factors
As for flusheable wipes they sure seemlike trouble but unknown if this was the cause, there are also non flusheable wipes . I dont flush them and recomend no one use them
 

Gslenk

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Building mgmt got back to me (the supervisor over ALL buildings/structures in that area of row homes, said they'll take care of it. I know, sounds like a whole cluster of a situation. But that part is figured out.

I saw the ball of wipes myself, it was wipes, unless you mean something in the pipe design helped/caused them to form the blockage.

So I guess my questions have evolved into:
1) What should I do next time? Make sure a they cam the line also (I was in panic mode and forgot to ask), could that detect an incorrect slope that encourages blockage, beyond checking for physical obstructions.
2) Rip the walls out see what's going on
3) Is it possible if there's a shared meter that there is water supplied to the lower unit first, and the shutoff blocks both units (top/bottom) while the top has its own main shutoff as well? Since they clearly share drains, this seems like a reasonable fail safe solution. Or is one unit not allowed to shut off water of the above unit? (units as in separately owned condos on top of each other, only two condos total)
 

Jeff H Young

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Building management is taking care of what? It sounds like your freind isnt supposed to deal with these type plumbing issues your buddy should know some of this like who to call when he has a plumbing issue
1 video the line will not show the amont of fall but often can show defects and tell you what the problem is.
2 rip walls out no
3 good idea if poop and water is coming from above turn the water off I would
The blockage or defect in piping could have stopped the wipes from going down just like it stops feces and even toilet paper from going down . Is this a pre existing problem I noticed you gave your freinds tenant instruction on what to flush down. wipes could have been from neighbor , The building management company probebly knows where every pipe is in this building and might give some useful info I cant guess how a building is plumbed
 
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Hope it works

  1. The likelihood of connected drains causing the issue is plausible. Instances where the waste stack is shared between units can lead to problems in one unit affecting others. It's not uncommon, and a professional plumber's assessment is crucial.
  2. Prevention involves clear communication with upper unit occupants about proper disposal practices. Including these guidelines in the rental agreement may help. Regular plumbing inspections and addressing issues promptly can also minimize potential problems.
  3. Determining fault can be challenging. Professional inspection and communication with all tenants may shed light on the cause, but concrete proof can be elusive.
  4. Whether it's covered by insurance depends on the specific policies. Contacting the insurance provider to report the incident and inquire about coverage is recommended.
  5. Shut-off valves between units vary. Consulting with a plumber or building management to locate and understand the shut-off options is wise for emergency control.
  6. Opting for a specialized waste water cleanup crew and a reputable contractor separately might provide more control over quality and costs. Get detailed quotes and consider customer reviews before deciding, as one-stop shops may not always offer the best value.
 
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