What do you need to know if a public sewer is within the boundary of your property?

If there is a public sewer within the boundary of your property, it can create legal implications that the property owner will need to be aware of. While public sewers within a property boundary are incredibly common, it can pose challenges for homebuyers and homeowners unless they are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Here, the experts at Lanes Group will explain what you need to know if there is a public sewer within your property boundary.

What is a public sewer?

Public sewers are maintained and owned by local water companies. They are normally found in public open spaces and roads but can run through private gardens too. Regarding maintenance, the sewerage company has a right of access to this land. If the business carries out work on sewers within your property boundaries, they must follow a code of practice, which you can access from your local water authority.

Almost all sewers that serve a single property but are located outside of the property boundary – or are shared by two or more properties – will be public in nature.

What is a private sewer?

Private sewers and drains are the responsibility of the individual properties that use them, up to the point that the private drainage system joins with another and becomes a public sewer. Private sewers that are connected to public sewers were made the responsibility of local water authorities in 2011, so in these cases homeowners are only responsible for the parts of the system that serve their home exclusively.

Examples of private sewers and drains include:

  • pipes that do not connect to a public sewer (such as surface water pipes that directly discharge to a watercourse)
  • pipes connected to a private treatment system (such as soakaways, septic tanks and private treatment works)
  • pipes that are privately maintained as part of a centrally managed or single site (such as a hospital, industrial estate or school)

If you are not sure whether your property is connected to a private or public sewer, you can contact your sewerage company and look at your property’s deeds. You can also check a sewer map (your water authority will provide this upon request), or speak to your local authority.

For more information on identifying who is responsible for your drains, take a look at our guide.

What do I need to know?

One concern homebuyers and homeowners have with public sewers within property boundaries pertains to development. Water companies have several legal rights that they can use to protect their assets. One of these includes the right to demand changes to any planned development near to their sewers.

If a sewer is close to or underneath a building, this can make it difficult to access. Additionally, water companies must protect both the building and sewers themselves. Should a sewer be built over without sufficient protection, it can collapse or burst, which can cause issues with any buildings overhead.

Statutory right of access

Water companies have a statutory right of access to private land to enable them to maintain their assets. This means they can legally enter private land (providing notice is given unless the work is urgent) to replace or repair sewers, and other assets like pumping stations.

If a local water company needs to inspect a public sewer within your property boundary, this can normally be achieved via a manhole. This means it is important that any of these on your property are not permanently covered. If repair or maintenance work needs to be carried out, this often includes excavation, which may cause damage to the property. However, as long as the correct procedures are followed during construction work near the sewer, the water company will repair any damage to a reasonable standard.

While this may sound alarming, sewers through property boundaries are very common, particularly since the private sewer transfer in 2011. This resulted in most private sewers throughout England and Wales being transferred into public ownership. In 2022, most properties have a public sewer on or near their land.

What do I need to do?

The best way to establish if your property is connected to a public sewer system is by contacting a professional and having a drain survey carried out. An expert can examine the system in place using a CCTV drain survey, manual survey, or by checking sewer maps, which can help you to determine which drains are your responsibility and which drains are shared. The deeds to your property can also help in this area.

If you have a public sewer within your property boundary and wish to create an extension, you may need to divert it. Building over or close to a public sewer without formal approval is illegal. This can jeopardise the future sale of your property too. For those who wish to build a porch or conservatory, you will still need to obtain permission should there be a sewer within three metres.

A public sewer within the boundary of your property may seem like a cause for concern. However, by making yourself aware of your rights and responsibilities, it will cause minimal issues for you in practice.

Find out more

For support and advice on any aspect of sewer maintenance for your property, including determining who is responsible for your drains, get in touch with Lanes today. You can read more about our sewer services and drain surveys, or give us a call on 0800 526 488.