Saving Drains From Tenant Tyranny: 10 Ways Landlords Can Keep Their Plumbing Clog-Free

Owning rental property can be rewarding and lucrative, but it can sometimes be one headache after another, especially if tenants misuse or abuse your apartments. Clogged pipes are one instance where being a landlord can drain your time and money. Here are ten helpful ways to prevent clogged pipes in your rental property.

1. Specify Who Is Responsible For Clogs In The Lease

You should include a clause in the lease your tenants sign, indicating if they or you will be responsible for drain cleaning and clogs. Failure to include this information will likely leave you on the hook every time a slight issue arises with drains. Be sure to read this information to your tenants when they sign, even if you're rushed for time. That way, they can't say they weren't aware of their responsibility.

2. Have Every New Tenant Sign A Clog-Prevention Sheet

It will also be helpful for your drain-clogging dilemma if you prepare a "how to" sheet. Have tenants sign a copy you keep, and have them keep a copy for themselves as well. This proves you have instructed them on the basics of keeping the drains clean and what to do when they back up. Your sheet could include things like the following:

  • Never flush anything other than toilet paper.
  • Do not rinse food down the drain (unless there's a disposal, which would necessitate additional instruction).
  • Remove accumulated hair from all drains.
  • Keep the drain screens in place at all times.
  • Avoid dropping cooking grease down the drain.
  • Do not allow children to put things in the toilet or sinks that may clog, such as Play-Doh, Legos, crayons, marbles, etc.

Include anything else you deem relevant, based on your experience with the property.

3. Take Preventative Measures When Apartments Are Empty

Whenever a tenant moves out, you have a good opportunity to engage in preventative measures that could mean the difference between regular clogs for the next tenant or a clog-free occupancy. If the pipes are old and you're thinking a powerful drain cleaner could erode them, use a more gentle bacteria-based solution that won't harm your plumbing and should work overnight. This preventative action will work in your favor if the next tenant tries to complain that persistent clogging is a result of your inaction.

4. Stock Up On Drain Screens For Your Tubs

Drain screens are cheap and easy to store. While you don't want to make a habit of buying things your tenants should be buying themselves, having extra screens on hand may be worthwhile if doing so prevents those annoying and often time-consuming clogs. You could limit the number of free screens you provide each tenant, but since you can't force them to buy their own, giving them away will likely save you money and time in the long run.

5. Equip Washing Machine Hoses With Lint-Catchers

If you own washing machines on the property, be sure to equip them all with lint-catchers. This will eliminate a lot of added debris from entering the system and potentially causing more clogs.

6. Never Rinse Your Carpenter Tools In The Sinks

Whether you or hired professionals take care of re-grouting, caulking, and other carpentry jobs at your rental units, make sure no one ever uses the sinks to rinse tools off. Even when it's done only occasionally, all that goop going down the drains can add up to costly clogs later.

7. Clean Pop-Up Stoppers Regularly

All of your bathroom sinks should have pop-up stoppers in them and it's a good idea for you (or your maintenance supervisor) to have a look at them regularly. Have annual or semi-annual checks, informing your tenants that the procedure is necessary to prevent clogs. As an added bonus, this is a good time to see that your renters are taking good care of the rest of your property.

8. Set Up A Garden Compost On Your Grounds

An outdoor compost can be a good way to encourage your tenants not to dispose of food-related waste down the drains. Gardening is very popular and the compost may be better for your grounds than commercial fertilizer anyway. Make sure you provide clear instructions for composting, like telling people what they can and cannot dump in it. An added bonus: the more waste tenants put into composting, the less you have to pay to haul away.

9. Have A Trusted Product To Recommend To Tenants

If, after all your exhaustive methods of clog prevention, tenants are still having problems, have a trusted product you can recommend to them. Some people have no knowledge about pipes or what types of chemicals will clean them safely. People may also be concerned with toxicity, so be sure what you recommend is going to be practical to use around small children or asthmatics.

If you're so inclined, you could also purchase a case of your favorite drain cleaner at a discount, then sell the individual bottles to your tenants. It would be convenient for them, cover your costs, and be a good way for you to keep tabs on the drains and/or tenants at the root of the problem.

10. Get To Know A Good Plumber

No matter how much of a handy-person you are or to what lengths you go to keep the drains in your units clean and functional, there will undoubtedly be issues you can't handle by yourself. For these times, it's good to know a plumber you have faith in. Particularly if you have multiple units, a plumber could be your best ally in the battle of the drains.