How do I separate the phone jacks in a housing duplex?
January 5, 2006 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into one-half of a rented housing duplex. After beginning the process of activating a phone and DSL line, I realized that all the house's phone jacks are plugged into the same phone line. What should I do, what should I ask my landlord to do and what should I ask the phone company to do?

The house is newly converted and nobody has moved into the other half yet. On other matters, our landlord has been fair but flakey. For instance, everything is complicated by the fact that we don't even have our own mailing address yet.

We've played phone tag and the landlord appears to be under the impression that I need to have a new (Telephone Network Interface) "box" installed. We're the smaller, cheaper rent half of the duplex, but I don't see why I would be responsible for new infrastructure. I'm on a poverty-level volunteer stipend, so I'd rather not pay rewiring fees if it's just a matter of opening the box and disconnecting the other jacks in the house and letting the new tenants install a new (separately billed) line.

I need Internet, but I don't really need a telephone landline. I suspect I'd hit the same problem with cable internet and it's more expensive. It just seems like a good idea (911) and I qualify for Oregon's telephone subsidy. I'd put up with a locked down (from long distance, 900 number and collect calls), shared bill party-line situation, but I don't think that's what the landlord has in mind.
posted by Skwirl to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Best answer: The short answer to the phone jacks: you can't...not exactly. Depending on how old the house and the cabling is, there is one network interface which connects to a series of cables (or one cable, which is dragged all over the place - I've seen this happen) and connected to the various jacks. In all likelihood, if you disconnect the wires from one jack you'll cut off dialtone to every other jack, or possibly just every jack which is "downstream" depending on how it's wired up.

Now - what you CAN do/have done is have your line with DSL brought in on one pair of wires (that's either the blue pair or the red/green pair - depending on the age of the cable) and have the secondary line for the OTHER TENANT brought in on the orange pair (or the black/yellow pair) and that way you have your line and the other side of the house has theirs, and there's only one TNI.

I am not sure how the phone company would handle billing in this case, however, but from a technical perspective it will work just fine - they may think of it as a primary and secondary line, in which case there's one bill. That could get dicey.
posted by TeamBilly at 3:55 PM on January 5, 2006

Response by poster: Are all houses daisy chained in one way or another? Because there appears to be multiple wires coming from the box. I only have one jack in my area.
posted by Skwirl at 4:00 PM on January 5, 2006

I don't see why either you or the new tenants on the other side should be paying for the installation of new phone lines. That a house is wired for phone service is an expectation that everyone has coming into a rental situation. Unless it was disclosed before you signed the lease and you agreed to it, your landlord should be fitting the bill for the rewiring work. Then you pay to get your half of the rewired house hooked up to the phone company.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2006

I think that the easiest way to get DSL/voice would be to get the phone company to run another line just to your half of the house to a place inside where you want the DSL modem.

You wouldn't have access at all of the jacks, but you can just get a cordless phone for your voice needs.
posted by reverendX at 4:24 PM on January 5, 2006

Contact your local housing board, tenant assistance service, or phone company. At least one of them should be able to provide you a copy of whatever state law requires landlords to provide at least one working phone line per unit. He needs to put in the line out of his own pocket.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:43 PM on January 5, 2006

Are all houses daisy chained in one way or another?

No, it's actually quite possible that you're house is wired using a "star topology," meaning that each jack has a direct connection to the network interface box, in which case you could disconnect all the jacks to the other unit without cutting off your own service.

If you are comfortable sharing a bill, it seems like you could get away with one interface box if you ordered a second line and connected one set of jacks to one line and the other set of jacks to the second line. AFAIK when you get a second line, you usually don't need a second interface box. (Standard phone wire is able to handle 2 lines, after all.) Then you'd just need to get the phone company to bring the second line into the box. The rest of the wiring you could do on your own.

In general, phone wiring isn't that complicated.
posted by epugachev at 4:55 PM on January 5, 2006

Best answer: Introductory material on doing your own phone wiring.
posted by epugachev at 4:57 PM on January 5, 2006

Have you talked to the phone company? SBC (the major provider in Wisconsin) rewired our box and worked to strengthen the DSL signal. I would guess that your phone company might be willing to help you solve the problem just to get you as a customer.
posted by richardhay at 7:30 PM on January 5, 2006

This is a landlord-tenant issue, if you ask me. You need to press the landlord to foot the bill for getting a seperate line in.
posted by cellphone at 7:59 PM on January 5, 2006

Whatever you do, do not share a phone line with your neighbor. I've never seen a case of splitting the phone bill that worked.
posted by Marky at 10:47 PM on January 5, 2006

Talk to the phone company. If you don't have a modern TNI, they're required by law to install one (IIRC). It is not normally an expense that falls to the consumer, since the TNI is the traditional termination of the telephone provider's responsibility.

What you owe the phone company shouldn't be anything more than what you would owe for having service turned on anywhere else.

From the sounds of things, you should be able to plug the jacks in your side into the new TNI line with no problem (the guy might even do this for you), and your future neighbor will have a similarly simple activation. The only caveat is that without rewiring there's always a possibility of having one of the jacks miswired, but if you make sure that all of the ones on your side work while there isn't any service to the other unit, you should be able to make sure the jacks are correctly plugged.
posted by dhartung at 11:50 PM on January 5, 2006

Best answer: You probably don't have a problem. When the installer arrives, explain the situation to him. He will quite possibly use the opportunity to install new four-pair wiring to your side and completely bypass the existing wiring; when a tenant moves in on the other side, they'll have to get their own wiring installed.

You probably do need to have a new box installed (or more precisely, the house needs two boxes), but you're not going to pay extra for that--that's the telco's responsibility.

I don't think that you pay for any of the wiring on the outside of the house, and a long as you are happy having your phone jacks on perimeter walls, you won't be facing an expensive visit from the phone company.
posted by adamrice at 7:54 AM on January 6, 2006

Adamrice makes a good point - generally, if new cable needs to be run, the telco tech runs a new cable from the outside of the house to whatever jack you want, drills a hole and is done with it - they don't climb around in attics anymore.

However, they do, often, charge for this. Standard rate is $90-115 per hour. You're in Oregon, right? Unless you're rural, that's pretty much Qwest country. Good luck.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:42 AM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: My current thinking is to get the TNI installed and run a cable through my window if I reach an impasse with the landlord.

Hyup. Qwest it is. They creep the hell out of me, but that's the free market for you.
posted by Skwirl at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: PS -- Thanks everyone!
posted by Skwirl at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Activation Day Follow-up: It turns out that Qwest can run two lines through the same TNI and bill separately, so I just rewired my jack to the house's orange wires on the TNI's line 1 and rerouted all the blue wires to line 2. Turns out that we are daisy chained and the branch for my jack has at least one jack following it and possibly one before it, so if my neighbors are really tricky they could, in theory, tap in with a two-line phone at at least one place, but I think it's an acceptable risk. I'm thinking about cutting off line 2 at my jack to at least shut off anything down the line.

Ooo, we also have a separate USPS mailbox now.

This morning I got dialtone. Pretty soon I'll set up the DSL.
posted by Skwirl at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2006

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