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Property Owner Responsibilities

Diagram of sewer laterals

Property owners are responsible for the sewer pipe, called a lateral, which runs from the home or building to the sewer main which is typically located in the street. The city is accountable for the sewer once the sewage leaves the lateral and enters the main.

Property owners’ responsibilities include maintenance and repair of the lateral, overflow cleanup and damages. The city may have to step in and take corrective action should a sewage overflow occur from a lateral. The property owner may be responsible for costs incurred by the city.  

Please send your comments on how the city is operating and maintaining the sewer system to or call 760-438-2722.

To avoid costly repairs and to project public health and the environment, sewer laterals should be cleaned regularly. Ideally, a lateral should be professionally cleaned once a year to remove built up debris. Inspections using a small camera should be conducted by a professional every three to five years to ensure pipe integrity. Check more often if you experience a sewage-like odor or frequent clogged drains.

Access to the lateral pipe is important for cleaning, maintenance and troubleshooting. A cleanout is an access point into the sewer lateral that is used to inspect the line and clear it of any obstruction. Cleanouts are usually located within three to five feet of a business or home and they look like the end of a pipe with a cap on it. A plumber can determine a cleanout’s location, its condition and make repairs. The cleanout cap must be on tight at all times except when servicing the lateral. Removing the cleanout cap to relieve a sewer back-up will cause a sewer spill and is a health violation. Having a missing or damaged cleanout cap is illegal.

Visit this link to find out more about keeping sewers free of clogs.

What is a sewer lateral?

The sewer lateral is the pipe that connects a home's plumbing system into the city's sanitary sewer main. The pipes carry sanitary sewage and/or industrial waste from a building to a public sewer.

Who is responsible for maintaining and repairing laterals?

Property owners are responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of their lateral. The city is responsible for the mainline sewer in the street.

When immediate action is necessary to preserve or protect the public health, safety, and/or the environment, the city may have to step in and take corrective action. The property owner may be responsible for costs incurred by the city.

Why did the city change its policy for property owners to be responsible for the lateral?

The city code was amended July 24, 2007, to clarify that sewer laterals from the private property to the city’s sewer main are the responsibility of the property owner to maintain, repair and replace.

In the past, the city responded to a small number of calls for service that involved private sewer laterals. A state law adopted in 2006 requires cities to take a more active role in maintaining sewer lines or risk high fines and costs to bring the lines into compliance with stringent new state regulations. As part of the changes, the city needed to clarify roles and responsibilities for its sewage system.

What should I do if I have problems with my sewer lateral?

Call a plumber to determine the problem. Look for "Plumbing Contactors" in the Yellow Pages. You may also contact the State Contractors License Board at 800-321-2752 to find licensed contractors in and around Carlsbad.

What is a cleanout and where is it located?

A cleanout is an entry point into the sewer service that is used to clear the line of any obstruction. Generally, a cleanout can be located either inside or outside of a house/building. Cleanouts are sometimes inadvertently buried under landscaping and cement. When this happens, the cleanout will need to be re-exposed and made accessible.

What causes sewer laterals to overflow?

In Carlsbad, about 50 percent of the 20 to 25 lateral line problems that the city hears about annually involve tree roots. The other 50 percent of problems are caused by people dumping grease or other substances down the drain. 

How often should my sewer lateral be cleaned?

To avoid costly repairs as well as health, safety and environmental hazards, sewer laterals should be cleaned regularly. How often you clean your lateral depends on the age of your house, the growth of tree and bush roots and the types of items that go down the drain.

A good rule of thumb is to have a plumber professionally clean the lateral once a year to remove built up debris. Inspections using a small camera should be conducted by a professional every three to five years to ensure pipe integrity.

How do I know if my lateral needs repair or replacement?

Some signs that sewer laterals need repair or replacement include frequent clogged drains and an odor of sewage. Houses and businesses with mature trees and bushes may need to check and repair their laterals more often since roots may wrap around and damage the lateral.

The best way to assess the condition of a lateral is by having a plumber insert a small camera into the pipe to examine its interior.

Do I need a city permit to do lateral repair work on my property?

You do not need a permit to perform lateral work on private property. However, if you are performing lateral work in the public right-of-way, you must obtain a Plumbing Permit from the city’s permit department, 760-602-8558.

Where can I find my front property line (the right-of-way line)?

Please call the Carlsbad Municipal Water District at 760-438-2722 for this information.

How far away from my sewer lateral should I plant trees and bushes, so that the roots don’t damage my lateral?

The distance of trees and shrubs varies, depending on the type of plant and the surrounding soil condition. Contact an arborist or landscaping specialist to determine the best planting distance.

What if I think a city street tree caused my line break?

Contact the city's risk management division at 760-602-2470 if you think a city street tree caused your line break.


For additional regulation information, please refer to the Citys' Municipal Code.

Contact Information

To report sewer smells, leaks and spills, dial 760-438-2722 during regular business hours or dial 760-931-2197 for after hours reporting.

General Information

Business hours
Monday – Friday
8 a.m. – 5 p.m.