Who is responsible for my building sewer/lateral?

Sewer Responsibility

WHY DO SEWER BACKUPS OCCUR FROM PRIVATE BUILDING SEWERS?   Sewer backups can occur when a private building sewer becomes clogged with roots, grease, or other materials and/or the pipe is broken/collapsed. A building sewer is the underground sewer pipe that connects the plumbing in your home to the public sewer system.  It can also be called a house tap, lateral line, or building sewer lateral.  Backups can also occur when the City sewer main is clogged, or surcharged from excessive flows during heavy rain events causing the sewage to backup into the sewer lateral.

WHO SHOULD I CALL TO REPORT A SEWER BACKUP?    If you experience a sewer backup and are not sure whether your private building sewer or the public sewer causes it, please contact the Moline Utilities Department at 309-524-2300 upon discovery.  The City has emergency standby personnel available 24/7 to investigate and address back-ups calls.

Once you report a sewer backup, a representative from the City Utility Department. will come out to conduct a preliminary investigation. As part of our investigation, the representative will check the nearest upstream and downstream manholes in the system to check for flow, which will help determine whether the blockage is in the City owned sewer main, or if it is in the sewer lateral.  

We will attempt to contact you to discuss the findings of our preliminary investigation.  If the City sewer main is causing the backup, the City will get a crew out as soon as possible to clean the main to remove the blockage, or if necessary, initiate emergency repairs to mitigate the cause of the back-up.  If the sewer main is flowing as designed, the representative will advise you of their findings and recommend that you contact a plumber and/or drain cleaning company to clean and inspect your line.   While the clog/blockage of the lateral may be due to structural failure on the City side of the lateral, the first step to diagnose the problem is to call a plumber/drain cleaning company.   In the event that the findings show a structural failure on the City right-of-way, your expenses will be reimbursed by the City.    

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE TO UNCLOG OR REPIAR THE SEWER LATERAL?  The property owner is responsible for keeping the entire lateral clear of clogs caused by roots, grease, or other materials.   For repairs, or clogs caused by broken pipe or other deficiencies in the pipe, the property owner is responsible for that portion of the lateral that lies on private property, whereas, the City is responsible for the portion that lies within the public right-of-way. 

What to expect when contacting a plumber and/or drain cleaning company.  It is always a good practice to obtain more than one price quote when contracting a repair, or someone to unclog your lateral.   When contacting a plumber, ensure they are an Illinois Licensed Plumber.  When contacting a drain cleaning company, ask if their work is guaranteed, and if so, for how long.  When getting a proposal(s), ask the drain cleaner if they televise after cleaning the line to ensure that they have successfully identified and cleared the obstruction(s) that caused the clog.  It will cost extra to televise the line, but it is the only way to determine the cause, and that it has been alleviated.  If your lateral is televised, make sure the contractor provides you with a copy of the video inspection footage.  If they inform you that it is on the City’s side of the lateral, please ask them to contact the City on your behalf to share their findings.  If the drain cleaning contractor and/or plumber is unable to reinstate flow, please contact the City as soon as possible. 


There are many ways in which sewer odor can creep into your home. Sewer gas can come from anything that is attached to your sewer line. The first thing you must do is find the source of the sewer gas.

Here are some of the most common causes for sewer gas leaks in a home.

  1. Toilet: The connection point around the base of the toilet will start to loosen over time. If the base of your toilet has cracks, or is not sealed correctly, sewer gases will find their way through the crevices. 
  2. Dry Traps:  Almost all fixtures and drains attached to your building sewer will have a trap installed on it, usually a “P-trap”.  The design of a P-trap will keep the required amount of water sitting in the trap, which acts as a barrier to the sewer gases. Over time, the water in the trap can evaporate allowing sewer gas to exit the drain.
  3. Cracked Pipe or Loose fittings:  Over time, building sewer pipes can become cracked, eroded, or connections can become loose, which can allow gases to escape.  Cracked and eroded pipes are more common in older homes.  
  4. Missing Clean-out Cap(s):  Most building sewers will have clean-outs installed to allow access for cleaning lines.   Sometimes these caps can be damaged, loose, or missing, which will allow sewer gas to escape.
  5. Plugged Roof Vent:  Roof vent pipes allow gases to exit your home through your roof, instead of spreading elsewhere. When roofing vent pipes are not properly cleaned or experience corrosion, your home may trap the odor.


If you smell sewer gas inside of your home, you should open up windows to introduce fresh air into your home.  Dependent on your level of comfort, you can investigate and try to determine from where the smell is coming from.  It may be as easy as running water in a fixture that is not used often, or pouring water down a floor drain(s).  If you are not comfortable investigating, you should contact a plumber to investigate.  If the smell is coming from outside of the home, please contact the City at 309-524-2300 and the City will send out a representative to investigate the odor.

Show All Answers

1. Who is responsible for my building sewer/lateral?
2. What can I do about sewer odor?
3. How can I report a sewer backup?
4. What is Moline's Basement Backup Prevention Program?
5. How can I establish a new sewer connection?
6. How can I report a missing manhole?
7. How do I eliminate sewer charges for lawn watering or swimming pool purposes?
8. How do I report a sinkhole?
9. What is undermining?
10. What is wastewater?
11. What is the wastewater treatment process?
12. How do I locate the water or sewer line on my property?