This article was posted on Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015

Does your insurance policy cover when a toilet overflows, the drains back up, a sewer line breaks or sends water gushing in from the street, or when the sump pump malfunctions?

Sewage overflows or water back-up is one of the most common issues for landowners but also one of the most overlooked or misunderstood from a coverage standpoint.   

All insurance policies are not equal and it is common for an insurance policy to not automatically include water back-up or sewage back-up coverage.  This coverage is typically added by your insurance agent by endorsement or coverage enhancement.  It is way too common that we at GS Insurance Solutions see policies for apartment owners that do not have this coverage added and when an insured has a claim they do not have coverage. 

Some policies will include coverage for water back up through sewers or drains as long as they originate on premises.  If the toilet or shower drain get clogged and overflows causing damage, this may be covered.  But if the sewer line in the street backs up and causes the overflow, this is not covered.  Most policies specifically exclude water backups from sump pumps. 

Flood and Earthquake coverage are the most common excluded coverage.  Call AOA today to find out more about the coverage you want but aren’t sure you have in place.   

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What Causes Sewer Backups?

Most landlords, apartment owners and  homeowners may not realize that they are responsible for the maintenance and repair of their main sewer line — the pipeline that runs between their house and the municipality’s sewer main, usually located underneath the street and in the building. The main sewer line is owned and maintained by the property owner, including any part of the line that extends into the street or public right of way.

Over time, these main sewer lines can easily deteriorate, crack, collapse or become obstructed. You may not have a clue that this kind of damage is occurring. But one severe rainstorm may be all it takes to bring the problem to a head. Some of the more common causes of damaged sewer lines and sewer line backups are: 

  • Blockages due to Tree Roots: Shrubs and trees seeking moisture can make their way into sewer line cracks causing extensive damage. They may start out small, getting into a small crack in the pipe; but as the tree or shrub continues to grow, so does the root. Tree roots can enter the service pipe at joints and cause blockages. They can also travel a long way, and roots from different types of trees act differently. If you suspect that city trees are responsible for sewer line damage, your plumber can contact the city and samples of the roots will be used to help identify the trees and who is responsible for cleanup. Sometimes a blockage is the result of a combination of city and private trees. In this case costs are split between the city and property owner.
  • Sanitary Main: A blockage can occur in a city sanitary main. If the blockage is not detected in time, sewage from the main can back up into homes and businesses through floor drains. Usually this happens slowly, giving the owner time to call a licensed plumber to assess the damage. If water is entering your basement at a rapid rate, call the city public works office and report the problem immediately so that a city operator can investigate.


  • Water in Basement: Most basement flooding is not related to the sanitary sewer system. In many cases, soil settles adjacent to the building and, if not corrected, leads to rainwater flowing towards the building and down the outside of the foundation wall. This is particularly true in older buildings where cracks may have developed in the foundation or floor slab which allow water to enter the basement. The cement floor and basement walls of these structures may have deteriorated to the point that they are no longer waterproof. Thus, water can show up in a basement which has never had a water problem. This frequently happens when the ground is saturated after repeated or heavy rain storms. Drainage can be improved by making sure that water drains away from the building. Homeowners can also prevent flooding by water-sealing the basement. 
  • Homeowners and business insurance do not cover flood damage: Only flood insurance will cover your losses in the event of a flood. Federal flood insurance policies can be purchased directly from an insurance agent or a company representative, and are available to communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Nearly 100 insurance companies write and service NFIP policies. GS Insurance Solutions, Inc. specializes in insuring rental property owners and can assist you to find the solution you are looking for today.

Usually this kind of backup happens slowly, giving you plenty of time to call a licensed plumbing, drain and sewer company like Horizon Services. If water and sewage back into your basement at a rapid rate, don’t delay; call your municipality’s public works office or sewer department and report the problem immediately. 

Ways to Prevent Backups in Your Lateral and in the City Main

  • Dispose of Grease Properly: Cooking oil should be poured into a heat-resistant container and disposed of properly, after it cools off, not in the drain. Washing grease down the drain with hot water can cause significant problems. As the grease cools off, it will solidify either in the drain, the property owner’s line, or in the main sewer causing the line to constrict and eventually clog.
  • Dispose of Paper Products Properly: Paper towels, disposable (and cloth) diapers, and feminine products can cause many problems in the property owner’s lateral as well as in the city main because they do not deteriorate quickly, as bathroom tissue does. 
  • Replace your line with new plastic pipe: One way to prevent tree roots from entering your line is to replace your line and tap with new plastic pipe. If you still have problems with tree roots growing in your lateral, you may have to have roots cut periodically. 
  • Illegal Plumbing Connections: Do not connect French drains, sump pumps and other flood control systems to your sanitary sewer. It is illegal, and debris and silt will clog your line. Consult a plumber to correct any illegal connections. 
  • Install a Backwater Prevention Valve: A backwater valve is a fixture installed into a sewer line, and sometimes into a drain line in the basement of your home or business to prevent sewer backflows. A properly installed and maintained backwater valve allows sewage to go out, but not to come back in. Property owners are responsible for the installation and maintenance of backwater valves. The cost to install one depends on the type of plumbing in your home or business and the difficulty of installation. Check with a qualified plumber.

    What to do if you Experience a Sewer Backup?

A sewer backup can lead to disease, destruction of your valuables, damage to your house or business, and can even result in electrical malfunctions. Prompt cleanup of the affected property can help minimize the inconvenience and prevent mold and further damage. In the event of sewer backup, immediately arrange for the cleanup of your property. This should include:

  • Wet-vacuuming or removing spillage
  • Mopping floors and wiping walls with soap and disinfectant
  • Flushing out and disinfecting plumbing fixtures
  • Steam cleaning or removing wet carpets or drapes
  • Repairing or removing damaged wallboard or wall covering
  • Cleanup of ductwork 

How to File a Claim?

For insurance claim purposes, take before and after photos of the affected areas and itemize any property losses. Save all receipts related to repairs, cleaning or damages and contact your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible.

Make sure you don’t find out after it’s too late that you don’t have the necessary insurance coverage in place.  Call GS Insurance Solutions today, AOA’s exclusive endorsed group insurance broker at (800) 827-4262 or email [email protected] 

GS Insurance Solutions, Inc. is the exclusive endorsed broker for the Apartment Owners Association of California, Inc.  For more information on the full area of products and services we offer tailored to you specific needs, please call our team at (800) 827-4262 or email us at [email protected].CA-DOI #0I96531Source for this article:  Insurance Information Institute. 

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