I don't want to bleach the state land, thanks.
December 20, 2012 5:46 PM   Subscribe

We recently moved to a new house and our washing machine hook-up does not drain properly. Instead of fixing it, our landlord keeps being pushy about how we should just drain it into the state land behind the house.

We're in La Crescenta, CA. My husband and I have told our landlord multiple times now that draining onto the state land is unacceptable to us, but when we do this, the landlord gives us some vague platitude about fixing the drain sometime in the future, which has yet to materialize. He's had about a month to do this, and we've been in contact with him every four days or so, so we've heard this "sometime soon" excuse many times now and never thought it would go on this long.

This is getting ridiculous, and I am irritated that we were told the house had working washer and dryer hook-ups when it essentially doesn't and the landlord has had a month to fix this and hasn't.

We have gotten more forceful and unsympathetic when he gives us the vague reply, so we don't need help asserting ourselves. What I do want is some concrete information about the following so we can tell him very clearly what the laws are. I'm not sure he actually does know what the laws are, so that would be important -- we had to buy our own carbon monoxide detector even though the law says the landlord has to provide one -- but there's also the possibility that he does know the laws and hopes we don't.

1. What is the law in California about draining washer machine water onto state land? I would guess this is illegal, and we don't want to do it regardless, but if it were illegal it would be an easier conversation. And if he continues to insist we do something illegal, it might make it easier to break our lease if necessary.

2. What recourse do we have for being told that there are working washer and dryer hook-ups when the washer hook-up doesn't work? What rights do tenants have when a landlord lies (whether he considers it a lie or not) about these things? I am considering asking for money off our rent for the month (months? ugh) we're unable to do laundry but if this doesn't get fixed I don't want to pay the price we're paying to live here. We specifically wanted a place where we could use our washer and dryer and if I had known we couldn't, I wouldn't have even looked at this place.

I don't think our landlord is intentionally being sleazy, he's just very old, losing his memory and health, and it seems to make him flaky and unable to manage his properties effectively. We're sympathetic to him as a person and don't think he's a bad guy, but he definitely does not seem to have accepted that he can't do things he used to do by himself. He will talk about his failing health so he's aware, sort of, but does not actually hire people to fix the problems and keeps trying to do stuff he says he used to do. It's also frankly starting to feel manipulative and unprofessional when we ask him to fix something and get a sob story instead of action. It doesn't seem reasonable for him to expect us to just go without laundry for months because he can't manage his properties anymore, but this is going to be a very awkward conversation and I don't want to get into anything contentious so early into the relationship with this guy. He's very nice, he just doesn't do his job and wants us to take shortcuts that we feel are absurd. If we could keep the conversation purely on "this is the law, comply with the law or we will take these legal actions" at least we'll get a resolution (either it's fixed, or we leave) and not a deflection.

Thanks for any information!
posted by Nattie to Law & Government (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a grey water drain in the house? Or basically is the washer hooked up to a jury-rigged feed with no drainage?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:53 PM on December 20, 2012

Are you saying it doesn't drain at all, or that the hose just leads outside to some state land? Where should it drain to -- sewer or septic?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:57 PM on December 20, 2012

Get is writing from the LL that he's happy to drain onto state land (which is really - well land) and get a load of washing on.
posted by mattoxic at 6:00 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is a start for your investigation.

Generally speaking, anything that should/would normally work has to be maintained by the landlord. Fixtures, plumbing and electrical as well as all of the other obvious stuff like physical condition and general safety.

Grey water is all of your water waste except for sewage, basically just your toilet. The thing is that unless all of your soaps, detergents etc. are made specifically to make your grey water reusable, say in yard or garden, then it's entirely not suitable at all and has to go through the sewer system. (Phosphates? It think that what I read years ago.)

Any way google up renters rights and landlord responsibilities in CA and you'll be set. It's all there, even how to dispute without spending money for an attorney.

I've been a landlord in rural CA areas and have utilized gray water systems and I agree with your thinking entirely. This isn't right and should be disputed.
posted by snsranch at 6:03 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, right, let me clarify: there is a drain that technically exists and drains to wherever it's supposed to, and we have tried to use this drain, but this drain doesn't work. About 75% of the water just goes all over the floor, and some of the water actually makes it in the drain; something about the drain makes it back up, but we don't believe it's clogged or anything. It seems water goes into it too quickly or something, perhaps because of its angle and maybe because it's simply too narrow. Whatever the reason, the landlord should have had someone come look at it to at least determine the problem for sure by now, and he hasn't done that. And he has admitted he didn't actually know if the drain worked or not when we moved in, or if it was even supposed to be used for a washing machine.

For this drain to be useable, the landlord would have to make modifications to it, or put in a basin over it that could catch the water and let it drain at the drain's pace -- this is what our previous house had, a plastic one that cost $50 that we saw at the hardware store the other day -- and he's just not doing that and insisting that we drain onto state land. So he's basically not wanting to pay the cost of the basin and the labor to install it. There is room for a basin and everything.

I'm not actually sure whether it drains into the sewer or septic, and we don't really have a preference for one over the other. We just want it to drain somewhere legit and not feel like we're doing something sketchy and environmentally unfriendly. I use biodegradeable soap but I do have to use bleach sometimes, and I do not want to dump bleach onto pretty state land. Plus I intend to plant vegetables in our yard nearby and I don't want to be knowingly dumping chemicals almost directly where I'm planting food. We have told him at least a dozen times that we refuse to dump it onto state land and half the time he has literally forgotten we had long conversations about it, and other times he just doesn't seem to care that we refuse.
posted by Nattie at 6:07 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoever the local authority that deals with environmental regs is, will have information for you (but might result in fines etc if this is found out.) I'm thinking city/county authorities -- poke around the utility district that provides your water, you should find an authority that deals with hazardous materials and disposal etc. Might want to call anonymously before calling from your house.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just happened to have this open in another tab: California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants' and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities (PDF)

It is a handy link to have around when renting in CA. There's a specific section on various remedies you can effect when the landlord won't have repairs done; the table of contents is hotlinked to the various sections of the document but not in a way I can link directly to here. There are several options detailed, one of which is for you to front the cost of the repair and then deduct it from your rent.

And here's another potentially helpful link:

Contact info for the rangers in Angeles National Park

Presumably that's the land your washer is draining towards? Call the Rangers and ask them to point you in the right direction.
posted by carsonb at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whatever the plumbing issue is, put the repair request in writing to add to your paper trail.

It does sound like you are moving out, though, doesn't it?

In fact, maybe that is the conversation that you have with him after he receives the repair request letter:

"We like you, we love the house, BUT we will not do anything illegal. Additionally, this house was advertised as having working washer dryer hook-ups, and it does not.

If the hook ups are not fixed immediately, we will file complaints with the city and state, and we will legally break our lease and move out. We will not be party to breaking any laws concerning illegal dumping. We rented a house that does not have the amenities we were promised."

Get a copy of the original advertisement that you responded to and a copy of your lease. Highlight every place the washer dryer hook-up is mentioned. Include that with your letter.

Go to small claims court (or threaten to in writing) if you don't get your deposit back.


Here's the thing. Other stuff will break in the future, and he won't be the type to fix it. Cut your losses now and move.

(If you do everything by the book and position yourselves to move out, who knows? Maybe he'll come around. But you'll always have to keep an eye on the way he handles repair requests if you decide to stay, as this problem sounds like a permanent feature of his landlord style.)
posted by jbenben at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2012

One important thing I gathered from the document I linked above is that these sorts of landlord/tenant issues are too varied and crazy to have specific laws you can refer to. There are sections of civil code you can find occasionally, but often what happens is you open a dialog between landlord and tenant about the problem, document the exchange (certified mail + email + detailed notes + receipts + EVERYTHING), hope for the best possible, most generous and sensible response from the other party, and then take them to small claims court when that doesn't happen.
posted by carsonb at 6:22 PM on December 20, 2012

Your drain is clogged, possibly with roots. Call a plumber. Landlord is almost certainly on the hook for the cost of clearing the pipe.

Expect from landlord's behavior now that other repairs will also require you to assert your rights, and decide whether you can put up with that, because a landlord who ignores plumbing isn't going to do maintenance on time, well, or to code.
posted by zippy at 6:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Instead of dealing with the recalcitrant landlord (for now), I'd contact the legal department at CEQA and tell them what your landlord is advising. Ask them if they can point you to the relevant statutes or regulations that prohibit discharging gray water (with detergents! and fabric softener! and possibly bleach!) onto state land that may very well be a designated watershed area. After you get some actual prohibitions to point to, include them in your written request to your landlord that he replace the drain within XX days.

You can also add a bit (possibly not legally advisable) that if for some reason his schedule prevents him from performing the repair in that timeframe, you're happy to make arrangements for it yourself, and will deduct the amount of the repair from your next month's rent.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:26 PM on December 20, 2012

Also the primary issue here isn't "is it OK to drain onto state land?" it is "the plumbing is broken / not up to code."
posted by zippy at 6:26 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let me clarify my previous advice.

Please document in your letter that he has asked you to dump your washer water onto state lands instead of fixing the existing drain.

IANAL, but that is the problem here. Your tenancy has just started, and he wants you to do something that could get you fined or worse. This isn't a repair issue, it's a little beyond that if you choose to escalate and use this as a reason to legally terminate your lease.

Document. Document. Document.

At this point, you don't know if the house is safe, if the electrical wiring has been installed and repaired to code, etc. etc. so you'll have to get an inspection.

You next step towards breaking your lease would be filing complaints with your county and having an inspector out. Rental units are inspected and regulated to keep people safe.

I know you don't want to be a pain in the ass for this guy, but I don't see that you have a choice. Protect yourselves. He's not fulfilling his responsibilities.

(upon preview, zippy likely has it. I also thought roots were clogging the pipes and that your landlord might have rented you a house that is not to code.)
posted by jbenben at 6:28 PM on December 20, 2012

Though, if that's not the case, zippy, there's always the option of taking this opportunity to choose a different laundry detergent and stop using bleach in the wash. =)
posted by carsonb at 6:30 PM on December 20, 2012

one of which is for you to front the cost of the repair and then deduct it from your rent.

I like this idea because I think this is a very inexpensive fix. In my experience drains used for washing machines WILL clog up over time because washers kick out quite a bit of lint and hair. A good snake job will probably fix this right up.

If it DOES work, and it should, hit your hardware store and get a lint trap for your washers out put hose. It's just a wire mesh condom looking thing held in place with a rubber band or zip tie. The next time you have a clog, just replace the trap and the plumbing will still be great. (If that was common knowledge, it would have saved me many hours of work as a DIY landlord!)
posted by snsranch at 6:31 PM on December 20, 2012

of course zippy is right that the issue is the plumbing problem, but since this guy thinks he's offered you a viable solution, it might help to show him that "his way" is illegal and likely to result in fines or worse.

If the solution is a $50 part, why not just buy it, install it and deduct from the rent? He's not going to sue you for that $50.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wonder whether you could call a plumber to correct the issue and have the bill sent to your landlord?
posted by fancyoats at 7:25 PM on December 20, 2012

You wouldn't be using h•e detergent in a non h•e washer, would you? This will often make the washer drain back up even though it should drain fine. If you are, try running a few loads with regular detergent and if should fix itself.
posted by Yorrick at 7:29 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like your landlord basically has good intent, but is, at his age, in over his head. I would call him up or put it in writing and offer to call a plumber, get an estimate to fix and if he agrees, that you will pay the plumber and deduct from rent. You will become your own defacto landlord. If the house is worth it, it might be a better solution than constantly dealing with his guy.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:32 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your drain is clogged, possibly with roots. Call a plumber. Landlord is almost certainly on the hook for the cost of clearing the pipe.

What leads you to suspect this is the problem? I doubt it's roots unless every other drain in the house is having problems.

It could be clogged. But it could also be installed improperly. If this is an older house they might have added the washer drain at a later date. Which means the problem could be: no air vent behind the trap; improper slope on the drain line to the stack; improper fittings at corners that lead to build up; etc.

Everything other than just "clogged" is a major issue. I suspect it's just a crappy line since the landlord seems so evasive about fixing it.
posted by sbutler at 8:49 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We are using high efficiency detergent in a high efficiency washer. (When we got it, the manual even told us not to use any other kind of detergent.)

I think we might either do it ourselves or call a plumber ourselves. We've already fixed a number of small things ourselves and just haven't asked him to deduct it, but this would be a bit bigger expense. I'm reading up on California grey water laws, and there's not a lot of info about it in regards to state land but I will try calling around tomorrow. One thing that seems pretty clear is that bleach is an absolute no-no, and while I only use bleach maybe a few times a month if that, I'm definitely not comfortable with that being dumped on any land. Our landlord tried to tell me today that "a little bit" of bleach now and then would be okay, so I'm pretty sure that's just flat-out illegal.

He told us this evening that he's going to try to get it fixed after the holidays, which would be perfectly reasonable if we hadn't already waited a month, and tried again to push us to dump it on the state land. I said we "refuse" to do that literally several times, and even went so far as to interrupt his insistence again to say that if we need to do our laundry we'll go to a laundromat rather than dump it on state land, and his response was... dump it on the state land. Sigh.

I agree that getting repairs done seems like it's going to be pulling teeth every time, but moving is a last resort for us since we just moved here under unexpected circumstances and it put us a few thousand dollars in the hole already. We do have a limit for what we'll take but we haven't quite gotten there yet, and if repairing things ourselves works out, that would be a good enough solution for us, I think.

Thanks for all the information so far!
posted by Nattie at 8:53 PM on December 20, 2012

In Texas--a state with environmental laws just a bit weaker than those believed to be found in California--draining of any onto any other landowner's property is grounds for both a lawsuit and a fine from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (both as a property rights and an environmental issue). Cities and developers have lost multi-million dollar lawsuits over drainage issues In my opinion, it's time to use the repair-and-deduct statutes (which don't exist in Texas, natch). If he gets huffy, you have plenty of resources in this thread to win in the letter writing game or, forbid, court.
posted by fireoyster at 11:09 PM on December 20, 2012

You could try contacting the State Lands Commission.
posted by dottiechang at 11:17 PM on December 20, 2012

Oh! Oh! Hold on a second! I had exactly this same problem with my washer, water everywhere when we'd wash clothes and the plumber came out three times and snaked the drain repeatedly and it never got fixed ...

... until I checked the drain hose and noticed that it was shoved all the way into the drain pipe, a good foot or so in there. So I took the hose and rested just the first three or so inches into the pipe and magically the problem went away.

Check out how your drain hose is situated in the pipe. It really could be that all your pipe needs is an extra foot or two of room to fully drain. Give it a try.
posted by incessant at 1:43 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have a plumber check for clogs further down the line than you think is reasonable. Our washer backed up a few months ago and the clog was near the main stack (a huge plug of white fat and assorted goo.) The shower, dishwasher and sinks drained fine because those fixtures use less water.
posted by vespabelle at 7:44 AM on December 21, 2012

Always send requests like these to your landlord in writing. You want a paper trail in case you need to talk to the building inspectors, arbitrators, court, whatever. That way he has a harder time "forgetting" as well.
Most municipalities in California do not allow any discharge of water deliberately onto someone else's property, whether it is storm water or gray water.
If it is in your lease, your landlord has an obligation to provide a working washer.
Do not withhold rent or partial rent for any reason, unless you have an agreement in writing that your landlord will reimburse you for the plumbing. You can be evicted for withholding rent.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2012

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