Q: I just moved into a newer rental, and have an embarrassing problem. The bathroom toilet seems to clog up regularly. My older place didn’t have this problem. What’s the difference and how do I unclog the new one?

A: New water-saving toilets are becoming commonplace in most apartments and homes. Part of the new wave of conservation law, these nifty 1.5-gallon models were designed to use less water than their 5- to 7-gallon ancestors. Unfortunately, these newer beauties have less “oomph” when it comes down to flushing generous loads. They especially loathe tampons and other “flushable” items that the older models could accommodate.

“Plumbing is one of the largest maintenance issues we have; since it’s most used, more opportunities for problems arise,” said manager Jim Stilton who handles more than 500 units in Los Angeles.

Got a toilet clog? If you’re handy, take the plunge. With a plunger, that is. Available at any hardware store, a decent extended-cup-type plunger should help you get a handle on most basic toilet stoppages. The idea is to push the stoppage down and then out.

With as little water as possible left in the bowl, position the plunger over the lower opening, gently pressing it to the bottom. Without releasing the plunger, pump the plunger at least six times to create suction, swiftly pulling out the plunger like you’re uncorking a bottle. Repeat, if necessary. A few drops of dish soap may help the process, too.

If the clog is beyond a simple plunge, call your landlord, since professional help may be needed. Never use chemical drain openers in a toilet, since a toxic splash may damage the porcelain or your skin. To avoid future backups, don’t flush anything but toilet paper and what Mother Nature intended and keep a lined trashcan next to the toilet for debris.

Q: Our garbage disposal suddenly stopped, not even making a sound when we flip the switch. What happened?

A: Kitchen garbage disposals seem like a nifty idea – until they stop working. Don’t panic, since most modern garbage disposal models automatically shut off when something has gotten jammed or stuck under the blades.

Much like a ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet, the disposal shuts off until reset. While resetting isn’t complicated, most landlords would prefer tenants not tinker with sharp objects and call the landlord for disposal repairs.

The following disposal dos and don’ts may help avoid disposal shutdown trouble in the future:

  • Do turn on the cold water first, letting a stream of water run with the waste until the sound of just the whirring motor indicates “all clear.”

  • Do feed items, like vegetable peels, into the disposal gradually. Allowing debris to accumulate in the sink and then shoving it down is invitation to a clog and/or disposal shutdown.

  • Do run a sinkful of water and baking soda through the disposal weekly.

  • Don’t throw anything with grease, oil or fat into the disposal. No fish, please.

  • Don’t ever put fibrous foods, like cornhusks, into the disposal.

  • Don’t run disposal with hot water, only cold.

Q: I don’t like calling my landlord for repairs, since I like my privacy. Any suggestions?

A: Quite a few renters prefer to be around when a repairperson is sent, but the landlord can’t know unless you specify that fact. Put your detailed repair request in writing, asking that they schedule the appointment directly with you. If that is not possible, offer a window of time when you can be home to meet the repairperson. For most landlords it is simply a matter of convenience, since repair people tend to come during a broad band of time. Keep in mind that in case of emergency, landlords are allowed to enter a rental without notice in many locales.

Q: My dishwasher is broken, but my landlord is slow to call a repairperson. What do you suggest?

A: Saying something is merely “broken” is frustrating to some landlords, since they have no idea what the exact problem is and don’t know whom to call. Would you take your car to a mechanic and explain, “It’s broken”? Save frustration for you and your landlord and be very precise in describing any problem. For a dishwasher, is the water leaking when you run the machine? Are the dishes not coming out clean? Is the appliance not activating when you turn the dial?

Don’t be wishy-washy when it comes to repair requests and be as specific as possible when calling your landlord.


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