Tree root damage is a complex issue when it comes to determining who is responsible for damage to a storm water or sewer line. Factors such as the location of the tree, the tree species and the damage caused need to be considered.
What damage do tree roots cause?
Tree roots can cause damage to sidewalks, driveways, foundations, and stormwater and sewer lines. In many cases, natural growth and expansion of the tree roots are the cause of the damage, but it can also be the result of improper tree maintenance or planting.
When it comes to sewer and storm water lines, the problem most often relates to the quality of the installation or the age of the pipes. Old or poorly installed pipes have cement or rubber joints that fail over time. Soil movement then causes these joints to separate and dislodge. Once the seal is broken, water starts to seep out into the surrounding soil. Once roots come into contact with the moist soil, they grow more rapidly. These roots then find a way through the cracks into the pipe where conditions are ideal to thrive. Root starts to divide more rapidly to take advantage of the moist, warm, oxygen and nutrient rich environment.
Location of the Tree, Property Ownership & Cause of Sewer or Storm Water Drain Damage
When it comes to determining who is responsible for tree root damage to sewer and storm water systems, it is important to consider the ownership of the property, the location of the tree(s), and the cause of the damage.
If the tree is located on private property, the property owner is typically responsible for the pipe damage caused by the tree roots. This includes any damage to the property owner’s own property, as well as damage to neighbouring properties. Property owners are responsible for maintaining their trees in a manner that minimises damage to surrounding properties.
If the tree is located on public property, the responsibility for tree root damage to drainage systems can be more complex. In some cases, the local council may be responsible for the storm water or sewer damage caused by the tree roots. This is often the case if the tree is part of a public park or green space, or if it is located on a public sidewalk or street.
However, in some cases, the local council may not take responsibility for tree root damage to storm water or sewer services. If the damage to sewer or storm water lines is caused by the growth and expansion of the tree roots, and not by any negligence on the part of the local council, the responsibility for the damage may fall on the property owner. For example, according to Waverley Council (covering properties in the Eastern Suburbs such as Bondi, Queens Park and Dover Heights):
“Tree roots will not enter a stormwater or sewer line that is intact and not leaking. Many properties in Waverley have old terracotta pipes that have degraded, subsided or have perished jointing seals. If a pipe has subsided or a seal has broken the repair of these pipes is considered a maintenance issue and the responsibility of the owner to repair.”
So, even if the tree is located on Council land, and you believe that this tree is responsible for damaging your sewer or storm water line, the Council may deny a claim on the basis that you haven’t properly maintained the waste system within your home’s boundary. As a result, the broken stormwater or sewer line has allowed the tree roots to enter the waste system. Alternatively the Council may assert that council trees aren’t the cause of the damage but other trees located within your home’s boundary or your neighbouring property.
What should I do If I do suspect damage to my storm water or sewer line as a result of a Council tree?
According to Waverley Council’s website, if the alleged damage is visible from outside the property, Council’s Tree Operations Supervisor will need to inspect the site.
If the alleged damage is within your property’s boundary and you suspect Council trees are the cause, you will be asked to show proof of the presence of tree roots in your pipes. If you reside within Waverley Council area, you will need to take the following steps to obtain proof:
- You may need to excavate or expose the pipe work to demonstrate the presence of tree roots, the size of the roots and their location.
- Notify Waverley Council 48 hours in advance to allow the Tree Operations Supervisor to attend the site and verify if tree roots are present.
Obviously, if you can demonstrate that the tree species causing the pipe damage is different from the tree species located on your property, you will have a better chance of a successful claim. Conversely if the tree species’ are the same, it will be more difficult to prove that the Council tree is causing the problem.
Call an experienced Drain Specialist to help with your claim
Determining who is responsible for tree root damage to waste systems can be complex and may depend on a number of factors, including the ownership of the property, the location of the tree, and the cause of the damage. Property owners are generally responsible for maintaining their trees in a manner that minimises damage to surrounding properties, and for any damage caused by their trees to their own property or to neighbouring properties. In cases where the tree is located on public property, the local Council may be responsible for the damage, depending on the circumstances.
If you do suspect that a Council tree is impacting the condition of your storm water and sewer lines, it may help your claim to demonstrate that you regularly inspect and maintain the condition of your drains to prevent tree root intrusion. We can assist in this regard with regular CCTV drain inspections. We can also assist you with obtaining the tree roots as proof in order to submit your claim. Call Pipe Relining Solutions for more information.