Thursday, August 19, 2010

House Repairs - Or Why I Am Glad I Am A Renter

So this year our nice little rental house is starting to show its age. For example, this winter some tiles in our shower started to separate from the wall. When we went on vacation our landlord came in to fix the tiles and found that the water damage in the wall was pretty severe. So instead of fixing a few tiles he ended up taking a few day to dry out the wall and re-tile the entire shower. Also, recently our kitchen sink was leaking pretty bad and then one day the handle just broke off, so he had to replace that too. (And before we moved in he replaced the hot-water-heater. In the first year we lived here he had to replace a window and fix the gutters.) But that's nothing compared to our little problem this May in the backyard.

We were working on our garden on one of the first nice days of the summer and discovered part of the yard/garden was extra squishy and seem water-logged. Our garden is surrounded by cinder blocks, and some of the cinder block holes had sitting water in them. Very odd. We decided to start experimenting. I went into the house and turned on the sink. Robb reported that the water started rising and then sunk back when I turned the sink off. I flushed the toilet, again the water in the cinder blocks rose and receded. I immediately went next door to report the problem to our landlord. He came over and took a look at our yard. We decided that a tree root must have burst a water pipe, which was causing the yard to flood. But it didn't make sense, water pipes would be in the front yard, going down to the street, not in the front yard. Robb and I asked the landlord if it was possible there was a septic tank in our backyard. He was adamant that the house hooked up to the sewer system in the '70s. He lived in the neighborhood as a teenager when the sewer system was put in and everyone was asked to hook up to it. He was pretty sure that the owner of our house had hooked up. Plus, we've been paying a sewer bill for the city. We asked our other neighbor who was outside at the time, and he wasn't sure. He thought that the former owner hadn't hooked up to the sewer system because it would have been too expensive for her. And, he reported, even if you don't use the sewer system, you still have to pay a sewer bill because you have the right/possibility to hook up. So, our landlord left that evening promising to call the city the next day to find out if we were sewer or septic.

The next day the landlord discovered that our house had never been hooked up to the sewer system. Yup, we have a septic tank. Not only that, but we have a septic tank that no one knew about for years and hadn't been pumped in decades. (A silver lining, even though we still have to pay a sewer bill, we actually had been overcharged. The city provided a refund for the months that we had already payed and our bill now is a lot lower.) So the landlord brought in a person who cleans septic tanks and she came and started cleaning the tank. At that time she discovered not only was the tank filled to the brim, but the overflow container and pipes had disintegrated, which caused our soggy yard problem. It had probably been broken for a long time, but our backyard soil is mostly soft sand that does a good job of draining water and waste. So the landlord now needed to bring someone in to fix the septic tank. It turns out if you live in certain areas now that have the ability to hook up to sewer, and your septic tank needs repairs, you can't actually fix the septic tank - you are required to hook up to the sewer system. Well that is quite expensive. Our landlord decided to bring in some professionals who were willing to fix the septic tank on the side (shhh!).

Unfortunately our garden was sitting right in the middle of the yard and on top of the septic tank. We had spent quite a bit of money last year buying nice topsoil, fertilizer, etc. We didn't have too many plants in the ground yet, so Robb used a shovel and wheelbarrow to move our entire garden to a tarp out of the way. (And he did it twice. The first time he put it in one part of the yard, but then was told that pipes would be put there. So he had to move it again.) The contractors came over one sunny afternoon with a small backhoe and new supplies to fix our tank. They dug up our entire backyard. There was hardly a blade of grass left and trenches were four feet deep. I tried to take pictures of the yard, but the contractors were concerned that there would be evidence of them there illegally. (Little do they know that I blog!) But, for some reason, the aforementioned contractors offered to let me drive the backhoe. And they even suggested that Robb take pictures. (Now why we couldn't take pictures of the illegal work in our backyard, but they encouraged pictures of an unlicensed operator on a serious piece of construction equipment, I will never know.) Operating that backhoe requires a fair amount of coordination. I managed to move one small pile of dirt and then let the men get back to work. They did a great job; all of the work was completed in less than 2 hours. The landlord then put out grass seed and our grass came up a few weeks later. And we had the opportunity to move our garden. Last year Robb placed our garden kind of in the middle of the yard, and I wasn't a huge fan of its location. So because our entire yard was dug up, we were able to relocate our garden to an area that made more sense and allowed for greater use of our yard.

Luckily, for Robb and me, this has turned out to be an interesting, light-hearted story. (I mean seriously, how did the landlord not know we had a septic tank!) But if we had owned this house we would be out thousands upon thousands of dollars. We don't have to pay a cent for repairs and we are so lucky for that. I know that a lot of people feel buying a house is an ultimate goal for young couples, but we feel comfortable renting right now. Not only do we not have to deal with outrageous house repairs, but we also have a lot more flexibility. We aren't tied down to this area; if we decide to apply for jobs someplace else we don't have to worry about selling a house first (which would be stressful in this economy). We are spending our money on other things right now that are more important to us than a down-payment for our own home, so I don't see home-buying in our immediate future. And if we ever do buy a home, you better believe we'll be triple-checking to see whether we're hooked up to a sewer system or have a septic tank!

(I took this picture secretly from my kitchen window)

(Yup, that's me using heavy construction equipment. I look like a natural, don't I?)

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