Septic tank backups are not something you can usually ignore for very long. They usually get worse until you have to have your tank pumped out or at least have a plumber snake out your lines. But when they are clogged just enough so they are only noticeable at times when the water level is high, you might be able to let them go for a bit longer. However, businesses have a responsibility to their patrons and the surrounding public to take care of even small annoyances.
In Squirrel Hill, every time it rains, there is an odor in the area of about a dozen businesses that share a private sewer line. Apparently, this has been going on for quite some time - about two years according to the general manager of one of the businesses. The Allegheny County Health Department claims that they received their first report about it just this past week. A spokesperson for the department believes the sewer line is partly clogged, causing the sewage to back up into the basements of the businesses. However, the city does not maintain the line, so the businesses are responsible for having it cleared.
The general manager of Manor Theatre claims he alerted the proprietor of his building, but nothing apparently has been done. According to the spokesperson from the health department, the line was having similar issues 10 years ago. This caused some businesses in the area to use the city sewer system instead.
While the spokesperson doesn't believe there is a health hazard at this time, if someone working in the vicinity or even a regular customer gets sick from the odor, the landlords or owners of the business could find themselves facing a premises liability suit. Raw sewage is unhealthy in any environment. The fact that at least one proprietor is, and possibly has been, aware of the backups and has done nothing to fix the problem may be a liability. If anyone is exposed to contaminated water, they could become very sick and hold the proprietor responsible.
Source: Post-gazette.com, "Businesses say there is something fishy in Squirrel Hill" Patricia Sabatini, Nov. 22, 2013