All About Sewer Compliance and What Is Needed to Sell Your Home in The Bay Area

*Read this before you buy a home, sell your home, upgrade your water meter size, or remodel your home in the East Bay Area, California.*

In The East Bay if you are buying or selling a home, upgrading your water meter size, or remodeling a home, there is an ordinance in certain cities that will require you to have a Sewer specialist perform a pressure test on your sewer lateral in order to gain a Compliance Certificate which will allow you to do any of the above-mentioned actions for your home.

There are two different ways that you can gain a Sewer Compliance Certificate for your home. You may either just perform a pressure test on the sewer lateral or you can replace your sewer in full (from the point of it leaving the envelope of the foundation up to where it connects to the city sewer line) to gain a Sewer Compliance Certificate. Though in both situations you will still need to perform a pressure test on the sewer lateral to obtain a compliance certificate for your home.

Why would you want to replace the sewer if you can just perform a pressure test you ask? Well, the reason is because your existing sewer lateral may not be able to hold the required pressure to obtain the compliance certificate as is. Therefore, we always suggest performing a Video Camera Inspection of your Sewer lateral prior to making that decision.

The way we perform a Sewer camera inspection is by locating your sewer cleanout on the exterior of the home. We will then open the clean out and stick the camera head down the sewer and watch it on our monitor as we send the sewer camera down the line. There are a few things that we will look for to help us to make a determination on the best course of action for our clients. The 4 major items we look for while performing the camera inspection are:

  1. Broken pipe
  2. Roots in the sewer
  3. Off sets (disjointed pipe)
  4. Clay pipe material.

If we find any of these issues, this calls for a further investigation into if a full replacement is necessary. We will look at both the upper lateral (house to sidewalk) and the lower lateral (sidewalk to street) to check the condition. There are some houses where the lower sewer lateral has been replaced and the upper sewer lateral is clay material with roots, which indicates that we will need to replace the upper sewer lateral and then test the lower lateral after we replace the upper lateral to be able to gain the home compliance.
If we find that the entire lateral is clay, has broken pipe, offsets, or roots, we will recommend a full replacement of the sewer lateral in order to gain compliance for the parcel.

If there are no apparent issues that we can see on the camera inspection and it is the correct material like cast iron or plastic, we will recommend a pressure test on the sewer lateral to attempt to gain compliance, as is. I say attempt because there is no guarantee that the existing sewer lateral will pass the required pressure test as is and may need additional work up to and including full replacement of the sewer to gain compliance.

There are a few reasons that the lateral might fail the test (if the test is being performed on an existing sewer lateral) though generally that it is due to the pipe being damaged or the couplings that were used at the time of the installation of the cast iron or plastic pipe which are unable to handle the required pressure. Nowadays we use ARC couplings with 4 bands and a stainless-steel shield, or we use the Mission heavy duty couplings which if installed correctly will last decades. In the past they used couplings that only had 2 hose clamps which allow for shifting once it is buried in the ground. Though the old couplings might hold up to a gravity fed water flow through the sewer, if the sewer becomes pressurized (like when you have a sewer clog) the sewage will leak at those old couplings. This is the same thing that happens when we perform a pressure test on the existing sewer with old couplings, it will cause the test to fail and therefore not allow you to gain compliance on the sewer lateral.

If the sewer lateral is HDPE material, what we use to perform trenchless sewer replacements, generally that indicates that the sewer lateral is very likely to hold the required pressure and will pass the test, though even then, there is no guarantee that it will. Therefore, we here at Avalon Rooter always perform a pressure test on our replaced sewer laterals, so that when we put our 10-year warranty on the pipe, we know that you won't have any issues for a long time.

If during the camera inspection, we find that the sewer lateral is clay material we will suggest to replace the sewer in full. The reason that we know that clay sewers will not hold the required pressure, is due to how clay material used to be connected at their joints. On clay every 2 feet or so there is a joint which would have a small wax gasket and then the installers would pour concrete over the joints. Over time, especially out here in California (earthquake territory), the pipes will shift at those joints causing the connection to fail. These points are where we will find root intrusions or offsets generally.

We will then recommend a full sewer lateral replacement in order to guarantee that the pressure test will hold, rather than wasting money or time for our clients. This replacement is usually done via trenchless pipe bursting which means that we only must dig at certain locations and then pull the new sewer lateral through the old one. This will break out the old sewer lateral and inlay the new HDPE pipe in it's place following the same path and slope of the existing sewer lateral. After the sewer has been replaced, we will then perform a pressure test on the new HDPE sewer pipe to be witnessed by EBMUD who will then issue the compliance certificate to the parcel which will allow you to close on your home, upgrade your water meter size, or gain a final signature from the inspector on your permit to remodel your home.

There are many cities throughout the east and north bay that require a compliance certificate, though here we speak only to those that are covered by EBMUD. The following are the cities that are required to have a sewer lateral compliance certificate from EBMUD: Oakland CA, Piedmont CA, Alameda CA, Albany CA, Emeryville CA, Kensington CA, El Cerrito CA, and Richmond Annex CA.
**Berkeley, Hercules, San Pablo, Castro Valley, West County Waste Water District, Richmond, Point Richmond, and El Sobrante all have their own requirements though generally they are similar to what has been explained above. Look for other blogs coming soon with that information at www.avalonrooter.com **


All in all, what this means for you as a homeowner, or soon to be homeowner, is that you should make sure that your realtor has experience in the East Bay Area and also check your sewer lateral prior to going onto the market.

Here's What to expect when you hire us to inspect your home or your client's home, generally when we receive a request to perform a sewer camera inspection, you will begin by having us come out to the property and we will look for an exterior clean out. Once we find one, we will then perform the video inspection. We will stick the camera in and check for any of the 4 issues mentioned at the beginning of this article. What ever we may find we will make a video recording of our inspection and speak to what we find on to the recording. We will then take the video back to the office and write up a full report of our findings and upload the video to our online system. Next, we will write up an estimate for any work that will be necessary to gain compliance (test, sewer spot repair and test, or full replacement) and email it to you along with a link for the video inspection so that you can view our findings for yourself, though don't look for Brad Pitt in this movie, you'll only see your own sewer lateral and hear our comments about our findings.

Once you are ready to move forward with the work, we would just have you send back the emailed estimate with a signature and then we will move forward with obtaining the permits, purchasing the materials and equipment, installing the sewer, backfilling, and replacing the concrete and asphalt where needed to grade. We generally like our clients to only worry about letting us on to the property and then sitting back and relaxing while our professional crew gets to work. We will generally try our best to make the grounds look like we were never there, which we hear often from our customers, and it fills us with pride. Once we are complete, we will collect payment for the work completed and provide the compliance certificate to you issued by EBMUD along with the invoice showing paid in full for your records along with the statement of our 10-year warranty.

If you have paid the $4,500.00 deposit to EBMUD for a Time Extension from them, you will receive that check issued back to whomever paid it within 30 days generally. What is a Time Extension you ask? Well, a time extension with EBMUD will allow you to close on your home, remodel you home, or upgrade your water meter size and wait to get the compliance certificate for up to 6 months from the date of closing. This allows for buyers to not have to worry about moving and all of the other items that goes along with moving to delay a bit, though don't let the time run too far out as there are busy seasons where we cannot get to your work for almost a month which would spell trouble for your $4,500.00 deposit. We generally recommend that our clients schedule as far in advance as they can with us so that we can ensure that we will have the compliance certificate prior to the time extension expiration date.

If you're ready to move forward with your sewer camera inspection, click on the contact us button above or call us at 510-399-8744 and we will get you on the schedule. If you would like to read more on what EBMUD has to say on the subject, please read below. Thank you for choosing Avalon Services Inc DBA Avalon Rooter to be your Knight in shining armor.

Below is what EBMUD states on its website www.eastbaypsl.com:

The Regional PSL Ordinance defines a private sewer lateral as a pipe or pipes and appurtenances that carry sewage and liquid waste from the structure or structures served to the sewer main. All sewer pipes and appurtenances upstream of the publicly-owned sewer main, regardless of size, number, or length, including private mains and manholes, are considered private sewer laterals and are subject to program requirements, except in Albany and Alameda where a Compliance Certificate is required for the "upper" lateral only (as required by those cities' respective municipal sewer ordinances). The upper lateral is the portion of the lateral from the building down to the property line or curbside cleanout.

Many East Bay homes were built before 1950, and many have never had their original sewer laterals replaced. Over time, these pipes, which are often made of clay, can crack, become disjointed or be displaced, and can be damaged by tree roots, causing leaks and blockages. When a sewer lateral ages and cracks, it lets rain and ground water into the sewer. This influx of water can overwhelm the pipes and treatment plant that clean wastewater, causing partially treated wastewater to be released into the San Francisco Bay. Fixing damaged PSLs helps protect the Bay.

Here are the reasons that EBMUD states why you should replace your sewer lateral:

Under the Regional Private Sewer Lateral Ordinance certain property owners are required to have their sewer laterals certified as leak-free. The triggers that require this certification include buying or selling a property, building or remodeling in excess of $100,000, or changing the size of your water meter. Even if the above triggers aren't met by your property, there are plenty of good reasons to ensure your PSL is leak-free voluntarily. Leaking or cracked PSLs can cause problems on many fronts:

  • Defective laterals increase the risk of raw sewage seeping into surrounding soils and groundwater, contaminating private property and local creeks
  • They result in increased rain water flows into the sewer system that can overwhelm the wastewater pipes and treatment plant, resulting in partially treated sewage being discharged to the Bay
  • Leaking or cracked laterals increase the risk of raw sewage back-ups in homes and businesses, resulting in property damage and health risks
  • Leaking laterals result in water intrusion into the sewer system, or growth of roots in the pipes, both of which can lead to raw sewage overflows on local streets, storm drains and local creeks
  • Raw sewage overflows resulting from damaged sewer laterals can result in local jurisdictions being fined by the Environmental Protection Agency, which ultimately will be paid by revenues from the public
  • Allowing a defective lateral to remain unaddressed is a violation of local city ordinances and could result in enforcement actions against the responsible property owner. Below is a list of the Municipal or District codes which require that property owners properly maintain their laterals. The latest version of the local codes can be accessed on each city's respective website.
    • Alameda: Municipal Code, Chapter 18, Section 5.3
    • Albany: Municipal Code, Chapter 15, Section 15-1.22
    • Berkeley: Municipal Code, Chapter 17.24, Section 17.24.30 and 17.24.170
    • Emeryville: Municipal Code, Title 7, Chapter 8, Section 7-8.206
    • Oakland: Municipal Code, Title 13, Chapter 13.08.120
    • Piedmont: Municipal Code, Chapter 5, Section 5.47
    • Stege Sanitary District: District Code, Chapter 4, Section 4.4

Guidelines for Buying or Selling a Property

Obtain a Compliance Certificate before transferring title by fixing the PSL, if necessary, and then having an EBMUD inspector witness the PSL verification test (an air or water pressure test of the PSL). The buyer and seller will negotiate who will obtain the Compliance Certificate. Alternatively, you may request a Time Extension Certificate which provides an additional six months for obtaining a Compliance Certificate.

S1. Determine if the existing PSL is in compliance
Determine if the existing PSL meets the requirements of the Regional PSL Ordinance. Hire a plumbing contractor to check for leaks and other defects (the upper lateral only in Alameda and Albany and the entire upper and lower lateral in all other regions). Your contractor will advise you if work is needed (steps S2 & S3) for your PSL to pass the PSL verification test. If no work is required, proceed to step S4 below (except for properties in Emeryville where step S2 is required even if no repair or replacement is performed).

Not E:
During the installation of new gas lines by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), some private sewer laterals may have been pierced or completely bored through - known as a cross bore. Underground Service Alert does not typically mark private sewer laterals and as a result, cross bores may go undetected, and if damaged create a potentially hazardous situation. For gas line cross bore information, visit PG&E's website. A review of a closed-circuit television (CCTV) inspection should also include looking for evidence of a cross bore. If you suspect a gas line cross bore, call PG&E at (800) 743-5000. If you suspect a gas leak, warn inhabitants, evacuate the area and call 911 and PG&E at (800) 743-5000.

S2. Obtain required municipal permits
Cities and counties require that appropriate building and/or sewer permits be obtained before starting any PSL work. See contact information for your property's location.

S3. Repair or replace the PSL
Your contractor will repair or replace the PSL in accordance with the Regional PSL Ordinance and your municipality's requirements.

S4. Schedule a PSL verification test with EBMUD
Select your property, choose your preferred date and time for an EBMUD inspector to witness the PSL verification test that your contractor will set up and perform, and pay the required Compliance Certificate fee online.

Not E:
Your contractor will set-up and administer the verification test per the provided guidelines. EBMUD will witness the test to confirm that your PSL is leak-free.

Disclaimer: EBMUD issues compliance certificates solely on the basis of the performance of the tested sewer lateral in a verification test performed in the presence of EBMUD personnel. The verification test is designed for the sole purpose of determining whether the tested portion of a sewer lateral is free from leaks at the time the test is performed. By issuing this certificate, EBMUD warrants only that the tested portion of the sewer lateral passed a verification test on the date indicated. EBMUD makes no warranty, representation, or guarantee as to the sewer lateral's existing or future condition or its compliance with the legal standards of any other jurisdiction, including building or construction standards without limitation. EBMUD expressly disclaims any and all warranties, both express and implied, as to the sewer lateral's condition or compliance with legal standards and shall bear no liability in connection therewith.

S5. Pass the verification test and print your certificate
Once the EBMUD inspector verifies that the PSL has passed the verification test, the Compliance Certificate will be available online for printing. Select your property and print your certificate.

S6. Transfer Title
If you are selling a property, provide a copy of the Compliance Certificate to the buyer before the title transfer. If you are buying a property, retain a copy of the Compliance Certificate for your records. Process is complete.

A property owner who has a current, unexpired Compliance Certificate may pay the required fees and request a subsequent verification test for some or all of the PSLs associated with the parcel. If less than all of the PSLs on a parcel pass a new verification test, the Compliance Certificate may be annotated and/or written notification may be sent to a municipality requesting the test to indicate which PSLs passed the verification test. If all of the PSLs associated with the parcel pass a new verification test, a new Compliance Certificate may be issued with an extended deadline based on the work completed.