Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services
It was pouring rain that Friday night. So much rain came down at one of our buildings in SE Portland that the storm/sewer line backed up into the basement. Our on call manager was called and she followed procedure by calling the rooter people and the carpet cleaners to clean up the mess.
You would think the story stops there, but in this part of Portland the sewer and the storm water sewers are combined and the water that flowed into the basement was made up of raw sewage. This sewage was cleaned out of the carpet, but it left the sheet rock soaked and left mildew on the walls. Further inspection revealed that the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) units had been flooded by the sewage.
Our number one concern was to dry up the basement in order to keep the rest of the building operating. Bear in mind, that sewage mildew can form spores and this can circulate throughout the building. Once airborne, the spores can cause illness for the rest of the tenants in the building.
Three sets of plastic were hung in the hallway from the basement to the rest of the building to keep the air from moving. Dehumidifiers were run for two weeks to squeeze the last of the dampness out of the air and the sheet-rock. We made sure all workers were notified of the reason for the clean up and that they needed to wear protective masks and gloves.
We cut off the bottoms of the sheet-rock to make sure none of the wooden studs had mildew on them. Then we washed the walls with bleach, painted with a sealer and put a finish coat on the surfaces affected by the spill.
Next we contacted the HVAC vendor to clean out and repair or replace any HVAC components that may have been damaged. When they were done, we hired a power-vac company to clean out and sanitize the air-ducts. When this was completed, the space was given a final once over clean and we had the air and walls tested for residual mildew and spores by an industrial hygiene laboratory.
Satisfy the Tenants
During the time the tenants were out of the space, we rented an alternate space for them so they could continue their work. We also visited with them frequently to make sure there was good communication and they knew we were trying to solve their problems. We wanted to keep these valued tenants. (Since the tenants were out of the space, we also made some minor tenant improvements to the space they had asked for in the past.
The tragedy for the landlord on this project was that his insurance was limited to $5,000 and the cost of this clean up was three times as much. Sewer backups are not uncommon and insurance companies like to limit their liability, although additional coverage can be purchased from them.
In this case, investments were saved due to quick response from our property manager and the carpet cleaning crews. This enabled us to save the carpeting, and reduced the cost of clean up. Keeping the tenant was another important ingredient to protecting the client's investment in the property.
Finally, could this have been prevented? The City of Portland offers back flow prevention valves to limit damage. Never having had this problem in the building we were not prepared, but we will install the valve to keep this from happening in the future. As you can tell, a sewer spill is a huge challenge to clean up and our trained property managers made this experience easier for the tenants and the landlord.