This one is kind of a necessity
November 10, 2019 7:03 PM   Subscribe

My landlord is refusing to fix a broken toilet, claiming it's my fault that it keeps clogging and therefore it's *my* responsibility to hire a plumber and pay for the subsequent repairs. Meanwhile, my toilet keeps clogging up so badly I can't use it and it's only a matter of time until it floods the apartment and rains shit water on the shop downstairs (sorry but it's true).

So, I mean, I'm moving. My mind is set. I already found a place; now it's a matter of notifying my landlord and starting to pack. This was the big, big Final Straw for me and I need to get out; living here is going to kill me. The problem is I need to give 60 days notice, which means that this toilet needs to last me 60 more days without clogging up.

Some backstory, though: the toilet has been clogging since I moved in. The flapper is broken and my landlord insists that there's nothing wrong and it's nothing he would need to fix. It's clogged about once a month since I moved in, so I'm no stranger to having to plunge the damn thing. I can always get it, which I've emphasized repeatedly when communicating with my landlord. The most stubborn clog I've had required some very warm water and soap and that did the trick. Most of the time it's fine.

Welp, recently, it started clogging bad and I couldn't get it anymore. The water level rose all the way to the top and I couldn't get it for the life of me. I had to call my landlord twice in a week. He's gotten it unclogged each time, which I'm grateful for, but the fact is this is an ongoing problem that's getting worse. Every drain in this apartment is slow. The building is nearly 100 years old and the plumbing is, ah, original, let's say. Last year the heat broke and the pipes burst. There was water leaking out of the walls. He got it cleaned up, but he never fixed the water damage, and there's..... something else wrong with the plumbing where it sputters dramatically before water comes out. He knows this and he's avoiding the issue.

Last week, I came home to a letter from him with incredibly dumbed down instructions on how to plumb a toilet. He said this should be easy if I'm doing it right. He gave me a "better" (read: ancient and beat up) plunger, and told me that I must have flushed a "foreign object" down the toilet if this keeps happening. Therefore, it is my responsibility to fix this. He said, straight up, "it is not our responsibility to fix a tenant's clogged toilet". Look. I know how this toilet is. I flush two pieces of toilet paper MAX down that thing. I don't use tampons but if I did I'd never be dumb enough to flush them down this toilet. This is absolutely, unequivocally not my fault. It should be able to handle my shit.

The toilet is working okay now, but it's only a matter of time before it clogs again. I have 60 days left here. I honestly don't know where the original lease is (I know that's bad) but I know it was one page and said very little. I am a full time grad student with three jobs. I am the literal definition of "I do not have time for this shit". I cannot take a day off. I have no idea what I'm going to do when it clogs again. He's made me go overnight without a toilet each time, which was remarkably frustrating. And I just.... don't really know what my gameplan is for getting through the next 60 days? If I had to hire a plumber I would, and then I would get something in writing stating that it's not my fault, and then I'd send it to him with the amount on the bill deducted from my rent check.

Right? Is this an actual thing landlords are allowed to do? I am in Buffalo, NY. I'm so baffled. I kind of need a toilet and I'm just floored that he thinks he can wash his hands of this. Unless I'm missing something and this is legal? Is my gameplan the right course of action or is there something else I should do?
posted by Amy93 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you should hire roto rooter. it should be 100$ and this will be well worth it because they will absolutely fix it. and you can pick their brains about what is happening. THEY WILL KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING.

If there are tree roots growing into the pipes it is landlords problem. rr will know

My guess is there was an asshole who lived there before who probably ate a lot of coconut oil which has now frozen in the pipes causing the problem. rr can fix that

inheriting grease clogs from former tenants is very common and of course the landlord is not going to say that
posted by cda at 7:25 PM on November 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Unfortunately hes right. The toilet clogging is not a repair it's easily fixed. If you happened to call a plumber and he gave you a repair bill for his time it would be just for showing up because toilet clogs are simple fixes. However there could be other issues with the plumbing that the landlord is overlooking so if you kindly state that in writing you will have the plumbing problem looked at from a structural standpoint and if there is maybe building mortar falling into the pipe or some other issue not associated with the normal wear and tear of plumbing then you will be able to reduce your rent check by the cost of the inspection as long as it isnt more than 1/3 - 1/2 the rent. If you had a copy of your lease it wont say that but usual tenant laws specify that for maintenance issues that muck up the HABITABILITY. Otherwise I'd flush as little paper in there as possible and not say anything except this is my 60 day notice. You wouldnt want him charging you for repairs on a toilet that is probably as old as the building
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 7:26 PM on November 10, 2019

This is more of a “you don’t have time to fix it solution” but don’t flush toilet paper at all. Just throw it in a garbage can next to the toilet and take out the garbage often. It’s not ideal obviously but it will help get you through the next 60 days.

Wait until you leave home in the morning for your coffee/breakfast. Poop at work and school as often as possible. I realize this isn’t ideal at all, but it will help get you through the next two months.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:59 PM on November 10, 2019 [10 favorites]

You may be able to force a repair with assistance through a tenant group and a sternly worded letter depending on the laws and how tenant-friendly your jurisdiction is, and you are already leaving. However, it could take potentially a lot of time, and being on your landlord's bad side sometimes isn't worth the effort. Tenant laws vary dramatically between areas and regions, please check with a local tenant hotline/ advocacy group before taking any sort of action such as withholding rent.

I say be gentle with it, the throwing the toilet paper away is a good idea. Asking around your building if other people have similar issues and how they deal may help you figure out what to do and/or if its a localized problem (some kid flushed a toy down your toilet before you moved in) or a whole building problem.

Its 2 months, you got this.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:41 PM on November 10, 2019 offers information about your right to repairs as a tenant, including how to repair your apartment and deduct the cost from your rent, and What can I do if my landlord refuses to make repairs in my home? also has a Find a Lawyer section on their website, which can be searched by location and type of legal issue. You may be eligible for brief advice from the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc. - Civil Legal Services Unit.

You may also want to consider a tool that is sometimes called a 'snake' but is apparently actually referred to as a Toilet Auger. IANYL, IANYP. However, hardware store clerks may have a variety of ideas for how to keep your toilet in working order until you are able to move out.
posted by katra at 8:45 PM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

You might want to consider buying/ DIYing a portable camping toilet for “emergencies.”
posted by oceano at 8:52 PM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am not a plumber, this is not plumbing advice. Well, actually, I guess it sort of is plumbing advice, but no guarantees that it's competent plumbing advice. Follow at your own risk.

If your toilet drain clogs easily due to just a buildup of organic materials over time (as opposed to something like a plastic toy that was flushed down at some point in the past), you could try using a strong chemical drain cleaner to open it up. I've had to use this in a bathtub frequently due to an old-style drum trap that clogs very easily, and it's the only thing that really works (the plumbing is also lead, so it can't be snaked). You can certainly try one of the common retail brands like Drano, but my plumber strongly recommended pure sodium hydroxide crystals (which I buy under the brand name Thrift), which I've definitely had much better luck with.

If you decide to try this, I'd suggest doing the following:

1. First make sure the toilet isn't fully clogged, and can at least flush even if it drains slowly.
2. Turn off the water to the toilet so that it doesn't fill up again when you flush it.
3. Flush the toilet so there's no (or very little) water in the bowl.
4. Add crystals to the toilet bowl per directions on the packaging. Because you're going to need a full toilet bowl's worth of water to flush, you may want to err on the side of extra crystals.
5. Add hot water to the toilet bowl. Be careful of splashing, and give time for the crystals to dissolve.
6. Keep adding hot water until the toilet flushes.
7. Add enough hot water to the toilet bowl to make it flush a second time.
8. Turn the water to the toilet back on. Once it fills up, flush again, just to really clean the pipes of the caustic solution.

Note that pure sodium hydroxide crystals are quite caustic. You won't get chemical burns from it touching your skin briefly or anything, but it will definitely irritate your skin, and you don't want it anywhere near your eyes. If you do get the crystals or some dust on your skin, just rinse thoroughly with cold water. Also the dissolving crystals release a lot of heat, possibly enough to make the water boil, so be careful of splashing.

It's possible this treatment will actually make your toilet clog at first because of the loosened organic material, but once this clog is cleared it should drain much more easily. Of course if this isn't the cause of the frequent clogs, it probably won't help at all.
posted by biogeo at 10:09 PM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, and just to be clear, I definitely think it should be your landlord's responsibility to handle this, not yours, but realistically since you're just trying to make it through the next couple of months, this might achieve that for you with a minimum of hassle.
posted by biogeo at 10:28 PM on November 10, 2019

Maybe the landlord will want you out as much as you want out. Give him the 60 days notice, but tell him you would be willing to move in 30 if he agrees.

I have this vague memory, I think from reading the answers to another ask, about there being another small opening in the toilet near the big opening that clogs and if you clear that, (Coat hanger?), it vastly improves the flush. Obviously this is more of something to research than actionable advice.

If you are working 3 jobs, you probably do not have $100 to throw at a plumber or RotoRooter, but if you do, it will likely help you get through the 60 days.
posted by AugustWest at 12:31 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nothing to add regarding the toilet itself, but just wanted to recommend keeping any interactions with your landlord in writing, and definitely if you take the advice above to try to leave early get his permission in writing. He sounds like someone who wouldn't mind taking a big cut off your security deposit for, say, leaving him with a malfunctioning toilet.
posted by trig at 1:28 AM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Your landlord should definitely be fixing this. While you follow the above advice to get him to, I second the recommendation for the toilet auger. I got one from Lowe's for $10. They are more gross to use than a plunger but a cheaper step to take before going full rotorooter. It's the first thing any plumber would use, anyway.

When I was looking into solutions for my clogging toilet I read that you are absolutely not supposed to use Drano and other chemical decloggers with toilets. It degrades PVC pipes (commonly used with toilets). It can also crack the actual toilet. And if you plunge after you risk splash-back. Caveat: I am not a plumber.
posted by Anonymous at 2:17 AM on November 11, 2019

Locate the Tenants' Rights organization in your area. In many places, landlords must fix broken stuff, even when it's tenant negligence. Knowing the law helps.

No matter what the packaging says, you can't flush tampons, applicators, wipes. Grease should go in the garbage, not down the sink. I've been a landlord, tenants ignore this, it's expensive and aggravating.

I asked tenants not to use Drano because it damages the plumbing over time. Screw it, use Drano every day for week, every week until you leave.
Turn off the water to the toilet. Flush. Pour very hot tap water and a small amount of laundry detergent down the toilet to warm it(thermal shock can crack things, rarely),enough for a few flushes, then boiling water down the toilet. Plunge aggressively. This should loosen any grease in the line.

From this point on, flush 2 after pooping,the make sure things have moved along. Auger is a good suggestion, deduct it from your rent.

Document your communication with the landlord, and the issues and efforts. Your landlord will likely try to screw you out of your deposit.
posted by theora55 at 5:54 AM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just because you gave 60 days notice doesn't mean you have to, you know, live there the entire time. If I were you I'd move out ASAP. You can go back into the apartment to attempt to address the toilet issue if you want, if you think that would mean securing your security deposit back. But honestly it's probably not worth it. If the building is that old and your landlord is that incompetent, it's probably a fairly significant issue that something more like a backhoe would be needed to fix as opposed to just the declogging options mentioned. I think it could be worth it to look into Roto Rooter as suggested and see what they have to say. Your landlord might be breaking the law and voiding your lease, in which case he might owe you a lot more money. I wouldn't worry about burning bridges with this guy if you determine the problem is much heftier than a simple grease or foreign object clog.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:33 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Put newspaper down on floor if tub, poop on newspaper and fold it up. Like dog poop or baby's diaper, just throw it in trash. You just need to get through the next 60 days. You don't have time for anything to go wrong with that toilet, so don't use it.
posted by halehale at 6:35 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding everything that katra said above. 1. Throw away all toilet paper rather than flushing it. (Yes yes you'll want to go ahead and wrap up poopy TP with more TP.) 2. Contact legal services in Buffalo. 3. Try an auger.

I don't advise trying a chemical drain cleaner known to damage toilet pipes; this seems like a great way to get him to put the blame on you. For the love of gods do not hire a service like RotoRooter; you cannot take on that level of responsibility for an old building's plumbing system.
posted by desuetude at 11:38 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Go to Home Depot and buy a toilet auger for $10.

For some reason this is a little-known tool, but it is easy to use and will instantly fix blockages that a toilet plunger has failed at. Just stick the business end into the toilet and push the handle in to extend the flexible auger. If it runs into an obstruction on the way, turn the handle. You'll work it out.
posted by w0mbat at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, Thrift packaging specifically says that it is not for toilets. (It does work great on slow sink drains, thanks, biogeo!) I put most of a 2 pound package in anyway and it helped somewhat, but only temporarily. The toilet auger, on the other hand. Wow! Thanks a million for that, w0mbat!
posted by wnissen at 7:49 PM on January 4, 2020

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