St Albans couple in hotel for three months after sewage leak makes flat ‘smell rancid’

The leaking soil stack in Ian & Jennifer Tassell's apartment

The leaking soil stack in Ian & Jennifer Tassell's apartment - Credit: Archant

Disaster has struck a St Albans couple who have been forced to stay in a hotel room for over three months thanks to clumsy workmanship and dithering by the council – all because of a leaking sewage pipe.

Ian Tassell next to where his bathroom was and the leaking soil stack in his apartment

Ian Tassell next to where his bathroom was and the leaking soil stack in his apartment - Credit: Archant

It has been a case of one step forward and two steps back for fed-up Ian and Jennifer Tassell, who live on the ground floor flat of an apartment block in Malvern Close, off The Ridgeway in Marshalswick.

What started out as a seemingly innocent leak from a hot water pipe has ended up costing their insurers £10,000 to put them up in the Ramada Hotel in Hatfield, and a rancid-smelling flat from leaking sewage.

When panelling was taken out in the couple’s bathroom to access the hot water pipe in October last year, blue asbestos was revealed along with a second leak, from a soil stack.

And that is when the Tassells’ problems really began – as the pipe is connected to flats above it, taking the sewage from the upper floors.

St Albans district council owns the building but the couple bought their flat from the authority in 2003.

Ian said that after the hot water pipe was fixed, an argument ensued between the couple, the council and the Tassells’ insurers over who should repair the second leak.

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Jennifer said that the council’s “initial reaction was, you are the leaseholder, deal with it.”

Ian added: “Seven weeks later they were still arguing about it. The cost of the top of the soil stack is down to the council, and the cost of the bottom of the stack is up to our insurers.”

Jennifer went on: “Because the soil stack was enclosed, we didn’t know it was leaking into our ceiling from above us. If we hadn’t had the leak in the hot water pipe, we wouldn’t have known about it.

“There is a council tenant at the top of the block, a privately owned flat in the middle, and we own the bottom flat.

“The soil stack was leaking into the ceiling above the kitchen, and it went into the stud walls.

“I said to the council, ‘make it your problem, as your tenant has waste coming down the pipe, which is being absorbed into the ceiling’.”

After much wrangling, the council had the top half of the soil stack replaced by mid-February.

But the Tassells were unable to return home until two panels of asbestos were removed from both sides of the stack in the bathroom.

Unfortunately in early March, contractors brought in by the loss adjustor fell against the stack, causing it to break at the bottom, and leak raw sewage.

Jennifer said: “I have been distraught. We have had enough. On March 11 we would have been staying at the hotel for three months.

“You can smell the contents of the toilets in the flats above. Initially it was the council’s fault, because they couldn’t be bothered in the first place [to do anything about it].

I have had to argue about everything the whole way through.”

Ian told the Herts Advertiser that when a plumber recently came to investigate the broken stack, he had to remove tape placed around it by the workers who had removed the asbestos, and ‘it opened up like a flower’.

“It was only the tape holding it up. They have to break through the floor, down 18 inches, to put in a new column for the stack.

“I felt sorry for the plumber because as he was working on it, someone was using the facility upstairs – there was blue language.

“The flat smells absolutely rancid. You can’t go in it.”

The council said there was a delay caused by difficulty in gaining access to one of the flats.

A spokesman for the asbestos removal firm said workers did not intentionally damage the soil stack.