Illegal plumbing is a big issue, and it just doesn’t affect plumbers, it affects hard working home owners and renters. The cost to resolve can be in the thousands of dollars. Illegal plumbing is being caught out more often than not and I’m going to share a recent example of this. I can’t stress enough the importance of using a licensed plumber, but also ensuring any plumbing works installed at your home is lodged to your local authority/council.
I’ve always tried to be a rule abider. I’m that girl that will rarely colour out of the lines. I’ve always believed rules and laws have been put in place for safety. The odd times when I’ve broken the rules, it’s been because I either haven’t known about the rules OR I’ve broken them because no one will ever find out. (I can’t believe I confessed that. But yes it is true. I am a flawed human – I haven’t done it very often though because I’m generally a rule abider.)
The reason why a lot of illegal plumbing takes place is because it’s assumed no one will ever find out. And sometimes the risk can pay off… or does it?
I’m going to share with you a situation that happened to friends of mine and how it cost them thousands of dollars to rectify. But it could have cost them tens of thousands of dollars if they didn’t fix the issue immediately.
Around six months ago, I had the husband of my friend call me to say he had a bit of a plumbing situation. Whenever I get calls like these, I hold my breath. I can’t always help. But in this situation, I was able to assist where I could.
My friend had received a notice from the council to rectify illegal plumbing that had been identified at a property they owned, which they were currently renting out. The illegal plumbing had to be rectified within 48 hours.
How did the illegal plumbing get found out?
The illegal plumbing was identified by another plumber, but via another property.
A few houses down the street from my friends’ house, another house was being renovated. The plumber at this property was connecting down pipes to the storm water drain on the street. When he cut into the storm water, he noticed grey water was flowing down the storm water. The plumber could immediately identify a sink waste had been connected to the storm water as there were food scraps, tea leaves and etc flowing down the storm water. This type of waste water is typical from a sink. The plumber did the right thing by notifying the council that a possible sink waste had been connected to the storm water. A sink should ALWAYS be connected to a sewer.
The council has a team that investigates illegal plumbing, which is where my friend and the current Qld Female Plumbing Ambassador, Carlie Low works. Carlie was the plumbing inspector who located the illegal plumbing. She was the one to hand out a notice to my friend, which gave him 48 hours to get a plumber to disconnect the existing sink waste and connect it to the sewer.
But Carlie’s investigation didn’t just find that the sink waste had been hooked up to the storm water. Carlie found plumbing fixtures had been installed on the ground floor of the property that had never been lodged to council. My friend now had the additional problem of finding the original plumber who had installed the bathroom and sink (as it was installed by the previous owners), and a Form 4 had to be submitted. A Form 4 is a plumbing form that is lodged by a plumber, where they will take responsibility for all unauthorized work and any work that is brought into compliance.
The original plumber was not known, as the plumbing work had been done before my friends acquired the house. I rang Carlie to see if we could firstly sort out the issue with the sink waste and then work out a plan of attack on getting the rest of the plumbing into compliance.
I was able to speak to Carlie and she was able to tell me that it would be difficult to connect the sink waste to the sewer without a bit of excavation and drainage work. I suggested I get a plumber to disconnect the sink and cap it off. Carlie was happy with this and asked to be called within 48 hours to inspect this work. The next issue was getting a plumber on a short notice, to do the job. We had already lost 24 hours sorting out what to do.
In the end, the sink got disconnected and the renters were told to use the basin as their sink, which was a bit of an inconvenience for them. The basin, thankfully, was connected to the sewer.
My friend then got plumbers in to look at the unauthorized work and asked them to sign a form 4 to lodge to the council to bring the unauthorized plumbing work into compliance. But the plumbers refused to sign the form because it wasn’t their work and they couldn’t guarantee it had been installed correctly. In the end my friend had to organise a plumber to re do the plumbing to the fixtures that had never been lodged to council. It cost just under $8,000 to fix.
My friend was understandably freaked out to get a notification from the council about the illegal plumbing. But he was willing to do what needed to be done to rectify the issue.
No one will know who the original plumber was… or if it even was a plumber that did the original work. But the cost was an unexpected expense and headache for my friends. If they had been unwilling to rectify the issue quickly, it could have escalated for a Show Cause Notice and a fine after a certain amount of time.
Unfortunately, it’s not fair when illegal plumbing has taken place, without one knowing, but there are things you can do to protect yourself from this unexpected circumstance.
1. When purchasing a new property, ensure your solicitor makes the necessary checks that the plumbing to your purchased property has been notified to council. So many houses have renovated bathrooms, an additional ensuite or an added butler’s pantry with a kitchen sink. Ensure the plumbing to these areas have been notified to council.
2. If you’re selling a house, ensure the plumber you engaged to do any renovations notified the council. If a certificate or evidence of a form 4 hasn’t been lodged to council, consider the sale or purchase of the house to be put on hold until the approval has been produced.
3. Illegal plumbing will be found out one way or another. If you are a licensed plumber and come across an illegal plumbing installations, notify the council or the authority in your area so they can investigate.
4. Don’t brag on Facebook or Instagram how your ‘DIY hubby’ has installed your newly renovated bathroom. The Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) will be onto that post like a hawk. And if the QBCC don’t find it, a licensed plumber will and will notify them that your DIY hubby has done the wrong thing.
There are reasons why plumbing is a licensed trade and why certain forms need to be lodged to council. With this particular scenario, I wonder how many other sink wastes have been connected to storm water instead of the sewer. This is why we have an investigation team that look into complaints from residents and plumbers who come across such incidents.
It’s important to remember illegal plumbing will be found out. It’s just a matter of when and who has to deal with it.