Safety and first aid

Domestic wastewater overflow – legal powers and responsibilities

Owner/occupier responsibilities

Under the Health Act 1911 (the Act), the owner and the occupier (the person living at the property) have specific responsibilities for adjoining drains and fittings on their property boundary which are connected with the sewer.

These legal responsibilities are summarised as follows:

Owner [see Section 78 (2)]

  • May only repair drains and fittings that are within their property boundary, which are connected with the sewer, if their Local Government Authority (LGA) directs them to do so.
  • Required to pay for the cost of repairing any drains and fittings that are within their property boundary which are connected with the sewer.

Implication for owner and LGA

Report any problems with your drains and fittings at your property to your LGA and seek their permission/direction to fix any relevant drains and fittings.

Note: It may be helpful to send a copy of the plumber’s written quote/report to the LGA to confirm the nature of the problem.

The Department of Health recommends that the LGA visit the premise upon notification of a domestic wastewater overflow.

This will confirm the nature and/or extent and also the cause of the wastewater overflow/problem.

Occupier [see Section 78 (2)]

  • May only clean the drains and fittings that are within their property boundary, which are connected with the sewer if their LGA directs them to do so.
  • Required to pay for the cost to clean any drains and fittings that are within the property boundary which are connected with the sewer.

Implication for occupier and LGA

Report any problems with your drains and fittings at your place of residence to your LGA.

You should seek their permission/direction to clean any relevant drains and fittings.

It may be helpful to request that the LGA inspect the premise to confirm the nature and/or extent of the problem.

Offences [see Sections 78 (1) (a), (b) & 79 (1)]

The owner/occupier of a property commits an offence if they:

  • clean and/or repair any drains and fittings within their property boundary, which are connected to the sewer without the direction of their LGA
  • do not clean and/or repair the drains and fittings that are within their property boundary, which are connected to the sewer when directed to by their LGA
  • obstruct or encroach upon the sewer without written permission from their LGA.

Disputes between neighbours regarding the cause of and responsibility for domestic wastewater overflow incidents are civil matters. They may require legal advice or representation if a resolution is not forthcoming.

Local government powers and/or responsibilities

Under the Health Act 1911, a LGA has the following powers and responsibilities:

  • must ensure that all drains, sanitary conveniences, and apparatus for the treatment of sewage are constructed and kept so they are not a nuisance, dangerous or injurious to health [see S107 (1)]
  • may enter an owner/occupier’s property and dig up/open and examine any drain, sanitary convenience, or apparatus for the treatment of sewage, if it is suspected of been a nuisance or injurious to health [see S108 (1)]
  • may inspect and direct the owner/occupier to clean/repair any drains and fittings on their property that are connected with the sewer [see S78 (1)]
  • may serve a notice upon the owner/occupier to rectify any drain, sanitary convenience, or apparatus for the treatment of sewage on their property [see S108 (3)]
  • may serve a nuisance order upon the owner/occupier of a premise to direct them to rectify/make good a nuisance (see S87)
  • may restore or reinstate the sewer; and recover expenses from the person responsible [see S79 (2)]
  • may undertake relevant works and recover expenses from the owner/occupier, if they neglect or refuse to comply with the LGA’s direction [see S108 (4a)]
  • may serve a notice to several owners/occupiers to recover expenses for works it performs to a single private drain connected with a public sewer [see S108 (4b)]
  • may clean sanitary conveniences and drains, collect and dispose of sewage and clean and water streets [see S112 (1)].

Wastewater service provider responsibilities

In WA, the Economic Regulatory Authority licenses a number of wastewater service providers.

There are also a number of wastewater service providers that the Department of Water has assessed and deemed not to require a license.

The responsibilities of wastewater service providers (licensed or otherwise) are to:

  • convey, treat and dispose of wastewater
  • ensure that sewage is not discharged onto any land or place than what is otherwise purposed (see Section 98 of the Health Act 1911).

Wastewater from the sewerage main will contain sewage and therefore unauthorised discharge under the Health Act 1911 is an offence.

More information


Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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