Storm damage recovery

Broken Sewer and Drain Lines- Guide to Repairs, Permits and Inspections

Learn more about sewer repair, sewer repair permits and sewer inspections in this guide. Find out who pays for party sewers repairs, when to schedule a sewer inspection and who can repair a sewer. Get helpful tips and information about broken sewer lines and drain lines. (Also known as Brochure 7)
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Your home’s sewer and drain lines have probably been in place since the house was built. When a drain line breaks, the leaking sewage, whether visible or hidden beneath your yard harbors disease, may contain hazardous chemicals and provides a thoroughfare for rats. If you have a leak in your sewer line you are required to have it repaired. 

City bureaus that may be involved in your sewer repair project

  • Development Services: Issues permits for and inspects repairs between the house and the property line.
  • Environmental Services: Assists in finding the location of the sewer line from the public right-of-way to private property, authorizes all sewer connection work and party sewer repairs and answers questions about shared sewer line issues.
  • Maintenance: Performs dye tests, and is involved in sewer repairs needed from the curb into the street.
  • Transportation: Issues permits and inspects repairs in the right-of-way, between the property line and the curb.

Sewer repair permits 

Sewer repair between the house and property line (usually at sidewalk)Plumbing permit and inspection from Development Services
Sewer repair in right-of-way, between property line and curb (including sidewalk and parking strip)Right-of-way sewer repair permit (UR permit) and inspection from Transportation 
Sewer connections on a brand new sewer lineSewer connection permit (UC permit) and inspection from Transportation

Stormwater, combination sewers and downspouts

Sewer line leaks and the related rat problems are more common in older parts of the City. These areas often have combination sewers which collect both sewage and stormwater. Stormwater can overwhelm the system and release raw sewage into local waterways. Many old rain drain systems no longer function properly due to poorly jointed, collapsed, or broken pipes allowing soil to leak in and cause additional problems.

Downspouts can be redirected to allow stormwater to drain into the yard or connect to an alternative on-site system, rather than into the sewer. Any disconnection of rain drains or installation of an on-site stormwater system must be pre-approved to ensure that you install an appropriate system, and that it does not create a nuisance for you or your neighbor.

You will be required to leave the existing underground rain drain and storm sewer piping system in place for possible future re-connection. Information about disconnecting downspouts is available online, or check out the Clean River Rewards program.

Common sewer line materials and breaks

ConstructedSewer Line Material
Before mid-1960Concrete or tile
After 1975No hub cast iron or plastic
NewerPVC 3034 and ABS schedule 40, also PVC schedule 40 but not common in Portland

Breaks commonly occur at the:

  • connection to the branch lateral at the curb line
  • transition from cast iron at the house to clay or cement pipe, about five feet from the dwelling
  • p-trap at the transition between the stormwater system and sanitary system

Signs of a problem with a sewer line

Two common signs of breaks and/or leaks in your sewer line are:

Raw sewage or sewage odor: Contact the Property Compliance Help Line. Rats or rat holes in the yard or parking strip. A rat hole is a smooth-looking hole and one that keeps reappearing when filled. If you have a rat hole you can:

  • Call Multnomah County Vector Control at 503-988-3464 to bait for rats.
  • Call Maintenance at 503-823-1700 to dye test the holes. Dye appearing in the main sewer line indicates damage to your sewer line. The problem will be referred to Property Compliance in Development Services for site inspection, plumbing records verification and identifying responsibility for the repair.

You may also learn of a sewer line problem if we send you a letter informing you that a dye-test indicates a break or leak in your sewer line and requires repair.

Note: It is possible for a property owner to be responsible for doing some repairs in the street. (i.e. a private line running parallel to the curb).

Identifying responsibility for a sewer line 

Sketch of house property map including the sidewalk and street that identifies responsibility between the City and property owner.

The property owner is responsible for the sewer line coming from the house to the curb.

A Development Services plumbing permit is required for all work from the house (1) to the property line (2) .

A UC permit is required for a brand new sewer connection. Transportation inspects new sewer connections in the right-of-way.

Newer homes connect at the property line (2) since Environmental Services now brings the lateral to the property line. Older homes connect at the the curb. (3)

Repairs that involve pipe between the house (1) and the curb (2) will require both a pluming permit (PT) and a right-of-way permit (UR) and will require two inspections. These repairs involve the right-of-way.

Right-of-way is the area between the property line at the sidewalk (2) and the curb (3). Special considerations impact the project once it enters the right-of-way since many utility lines may run underground in this area. Check City requirements for work in the right-of-way. Repairs in this area require a (UR) right-of-way permit and inspection.

The City is responsible for the public sewer under the street.

Repair responsibility- who pays for repairs

Once the City notifies you that there is a sewer or drain line break or leak on your property, you have 30 days to make repairs or request additional repair time. After 30 days, the City can make the repairs and assess a lien against your property for the cost of the repairs, plus overhead charges and civil penalties.

  • The property owner is responsible for breaks between the house and the curb including the sidewalk and parking strip located in the right-of-way.
    • If a shared/party sewer line or sewer easement, is involved, call Environmental Services Nonconforming Sewer Hotline, 503-823-7869, before starting the repair.
    • Sewer repairs in the right-of-way must be made in accordance with the City’s Standard Construction Specifications, Environmental Services Rules of Sewer Connection, and City Code. Sewer repairs or sewer replacement in any part of the right-of-way requires a right-of-way repair permit.
  • The City is responsible for maintenance of sewer laterals from the main sewer, under the street, to the curb line at the right-of-way, and to the connection in the easement area if applicable.

Appealing a decision about a sewer or drain line break or leak

If you receive a notice and believe the City has made an error in identifying a sewer or drain line break or leak on your property, you can:

  • Have a contractor video record the line and send the recording to Environmental Services Nonconforming Sewer for a review.
  • Call 503-823-7034 for video quality requirements.

Note: The video you submit will not be returned.

Party sewers - common private sewer and nonconforming sewer system

Diagram showing difference between a party sewer and direct route of service from the public sewer line.

A common private sewer system (also called party sewer) means that portion of a building sewer not owned by the City of Portland that serves more than one building with different ownerships and conveys sanitary sewage to a sewer service lateral, public sewer, private sewage disposal system, or other point of disposal.

Common private sewers are found on private property and in private and public rights of way, including easements.

Nonconforming sewer means a private sanitary sewer that is:

  • Located on public or private property that is not on the same property as the structure or structures being served by the sewer; and
  • Not located within a recorded sewer easement or subject to a recorded covenant for easement regarding use of the sewer meeting the standards specified in administrative rules.

For more information on nonconforming sewers, call 503-823-7869. You can also check out information on Required Sewer Connection

Repairing a sewer line

All work on your sewer line must be permitted and inspected. Permits and inspections protect you and ensure that the work has been done properly.

Who can do the work

  • Only the property owner or a licensed plumbing contractor can legally work on the sewer line.
  • Bonding and insurance must be met by the property owner or the licensed, registered in Oregon plumbing contractor (whoever is doing the work) before starting sewer work in the right-of-way.
    • These requirements are in place to protect other utilities found in the right-of-way such as gas, water, cable and underground electrical lines.
  • To be safe, remember to Call Before You Dig: 503-246-6699 to have your underground utility lines located.
  • Verify sewer main location with Environmental Services Nonconforming Sewer Hotline, 503-823-7869 to get copies of maps and City as-builts.

Permits for sewer line repairs

All sewer line repairs require a permit, inspection, and approval prior to covering the pipe.

  • Plumbing Permit (PT) is required for sewer work between the house and the property line.
  • Right-of-way/sewer repairpermit (UR/UC) is required for sewer work in the right-of-way which includes the side-walk and parking strip to the curb.
  • Both PT and UR/UC permits are required when sewer line repair involves both the homeowner’s property and the right-of-way.

Pipe repairs 

  • All repairs must meet specific construction standards. Call Residential Inspections with any questions.
  • Uncover the part of the pipe that is leaking or broken. The bad section of pipe must be replaced with new pipe. If the drain pipe is old or in poor condition, it is a good idea to replace the entire line.
  • Remember to leave the work exposed for inspection.

Sewer inspections

Once new pipe is installed but still exposed, call for an inspection.

Plumbing permit (PT) inspections, involving repairs located between house and property line:

  • Call Requests for Inspection and Inspection Results
  • Enter your IVR or permit number
  • Enter the three-digit inspection code for the  type of inspection you are requesting
    • 350 for sanitary sewer, 399 for final plumbing
  • Enter a phone number where you can be reached during weekdays and if you want the  inspection in the morning or afternoon

Right-of-way/sewer repair permit (UR/UC) inspections, involving repairs located between the property line and the street.

  • Call 503-823-7002, the Street Systems Management Division of Transportation
  • Allow a four-hour advance notice for inspection; provide the following information in your message:
    • permit number
    • job address
    • contractor’s name
    • when you would like your inspection
    • your daytime phone number

  • Information about disconnecting your downspouts is online.
  • Visit Clean River Rewards to learn more about managing stormwater runoff.
  • Get a copy of Rules for Sewer Connection at the Trade Permit counter in the DSC.
  • To be safe, remember to call before you dig and have your underground utility lines located.
  • Remember to call for your inspection prior to covering the work.

Note: All information is subject to change.

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