We typically encounter more and more drain emergencies when it starts getting colder.

Fats, oils, and the effects of the elements start causing havoc. It's this period when blockages or new cracks in your tenants' drains are most common and you'll often need to call in someone to restore service. The period after Christmas is especially bad because overflowing bins and intermittent refuse collections can lead renters to seek "alternative" methods of waste disposal.

Thankfully most of these issues can be prevented by taking proper care of what you put into your drains. We've produced a free guide to print out for your tenants to educated and inform.

Download our free poster guide for your tenants!

It explains how to prevent common drainage issues. Click here to download this helpful advice! (PDF)

Some Bonus Prevention Tips

Drains are designed to carry water from your plug hole to the sewers. Under normal conditions they can handle the normal bits and pieces that get flushed away when you have a wash, do the dishes or have a bath or shower. That means a few hairs, some soap, food fragments and general dirt and silt. Toilets have their own design that works pretty well under normal conditions. Other types of blockage can be attributed to a single event or rapidly escalating chain of events that develop because of bad drainage practice.

Blockages From Fats and Oils

Unblock Your Kitchen Sink Quickly

One of the chief causes of blockages in the kitchen drainage system is the fats, oils and greases that we put down the sink. The worst culprits are hot oils, because as soon as they hit the cold water in the U-bend they’ll turn solid, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that it floats. It’s not impossible for the fat from a particularly oily or buttery meal to cause a blockage.

Small amounts of grease will flush away with the water, but habitually pouring oils down the drain could cause a problem. Scrape as much of your cooking and tableware waste into the bin or food waste caddy, and use plenty of detergent to break the fats down.

Solution: Ask your tenants to scrape as much of their cooking and tableware waste into the bin or food waste caddy, and use plenty of detergent to break the fats down.

» Read our guide to unblocking kitchen sinks.

Hair Blockages

unblock remove and dissolve hair from your drains

Hair is another problem for drains. It has a natural tendency to knot and twist, which can cause blockages to build up quickly. If your tenants encounter this issue frequently, it might be impolite to ask them to give their hair a brush or comb before showering or bathing, just to minimise the potential for blockage!

Solution: You can get little cages or nets to put over the drain that catch a fair amount of hair. Your tenants will need to remember to clean them out after every bath or shower. We'd recommend installing similar strainers in your kitchens too.

» Read our guide to dealing with hair blockages.

External drains

The drains outside the home carry surface water from your pathways and run-off water from the roof gutters as well as grey water from baths, showers, washing machines, sinks and dishwashers. Typically, these will have a grid on the top to stop leaves and litter from entering the drain, but these can corrode or get knocked off, so make sure they’re intact and in place, especially when autumn is on its way.

Solution: For areas with a particular leaf problem, you might want to invest in a plastic leaf guard. It fits over the drain grid and is an extra line of defence. All DIY stores sell them.

Soil can be a problem in these outdoor run-offs. It doesn’t dissolve and can cause a build-up that can lead to a blockage. Take care when working on your borders, and try not to leave too much soil on the pathway – it’ll get washed into the drain next time it rains.


The subject of adopted and unadopted roads is quite complex, so it naturally follows that problems with the drains and sewers are similarly tricky to negotiate.

The vast majority of roads in the UK are public highways. However private roads exist within the bounds of private property, be it a home, a factory, a farm or any other type of commercial or non-commercial land. There do exist public highways that run through private land; these are often public rights of way that have been in existence since before the land was made private.

What are unadopted roads?

In between the public roads and the purely private roads lies a grey area: unadopted roads. The word “unadopted” comes from the fact that they have not been adopted by the local authorities. They are generally the responsibility of the owners of the adjacent properties to maintain, although some unadopted roads are privately owned by parties other than the property owners.

Many, if not most, unadopted roads are not actually private. They are necessary access routes to all sorts of properties, and are deemed publicly accessible.

How common are they?

directgov1_000According to a 2010 government Standard Note (SN/BT/402), there are around 40,000 unadopted roads in the UK, totalling 4000 miles (making their average length about 160 metres). The same study reckoned that to make them all public and pass the maintenance costs to the authorities would cost in the region of £3bn – so it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.

To find out about road adoption by the council, visit Directgov Local.

Am I responsible for maintaining unadopted roads and sewers?

Just as maintenance of the roads is the responsibility of householders, so is the upkeep of the sewers. And if the authorities deem an unadopted road (or its sewers) dangerous or unfit for purpose they can force the property owners to pay for it, or even forcibly do it themselves and bill the property owners. It’s not hard to see how a damaged sewer could represent a public health issue, so a damaged sewer on a road whose residents refuse to pay up could well elicit such a response.

Note that this applies to the owners of the properties that face the affected road (who are known as frontagers), not tenants of rented accommodation. i.e. this is an issue for your landlord or housing association.

Residents of unadopted but public roads can understandably feel aggrieved that they should have to pay for damage caused by non-residents using the road. However, this is an unfortunate drawback of living on such a semi-private road. Some councils might have a sympathetic ear for residents (who are Council Tax payers, after all) and offer to pay for some degree of maintenance, especially on routes that affect the local economy, but there’s no guarantee.

CABLogoFrontagers on unadopted roads can apply to have their roads adopted by the authorities. If successful, the costs of maintenance will be borne by the public purse. Similarly, they can apply to the local sewerage company to have their sewers adopted. The sewerage company will almost certainly require that the sewer is brought up to a modern standard before they consider adopting it, although if they see an advantage in owning the sewer (for example if improving it would improve flow in the locality), they might be swayed to bear the cost themselves. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a useful page on this subject.

People living on unadopted roads with unadopted sewers are occupying a twilight zone between public and private ownership. Sadly, the frontagers on many unadopted roads are not minded to collectively maintain their roads and underground works, and they are often potholed and in poor states of repair. Often it takes a disaster such as a sewer collapse or blockage for them to take action, and even then, downstream residents might claim not to owe anything to the kitty.

Most unfortunate are those who are sole frontagers on a lengthy road that’s publicly accessible but unadopted. They could well have to foot large bills alone if the worst happens.


Not many house-hunters ask who owns the road when they put in their offers on their dream homes. However, if the road looks like it’s in a poor state of repair, it could be a giveaway sign that the road is not under the control of the local authorities and that it could end up being their responsibility (or partial responsibility) to have it maintained.