Monday, November 4, 2002
BROKEN SEWER LINES CAN RUIN HOMES, SAVINGS
Bill Vogrin; The Gazette
Lucy Scaranda came home from a business trip Oct. 9 and
shocked when she saw the basement of her home on De Reamer Circle in
the Rustic Hills neighborhood.
Water and sewage backed up into her home while she was gone.
Six inches of filth soaked her carpet, sofa, even the clothes and
bed in her teen-age son's basement room.
"It was a disaster," Scaranda said.
Water from a broken line under the street inundated a city sewer
main and bubbled up in a half-dozen homes in the neighborhood.
The other neighbors started the cleanup, hiring a company that
specializes in pumping out basements and repairing these kinds of
Scaranda found the company's business card in her front door and
Crews soon were pulling up her 10-year-old carpeting and hauling
it out. Sewage-soaked walls were ripped down. Bags of her son's
ruined clothes, games and other items were taken.
That's when Scaranda got her second shock.
She was going to have to pay a big chunk of the cost of restoring
her house and replacing ruined property.
Her homeowner's insurance won't cover the damage - many policies
don't cover damage stemming from an incident that occurs off the
premises of the property. In this case, the waterline under the
street was to blame, and the policy won't pay.
The city won't cover all the damage either.
In fact, the city normally won't pay anything when a sewer backs
up, said John Davis of the city risk management office. Davis is
overseeing the claims filed by De Reamor Circle-area residents.
Sewers running from a house to a main line are the responsibility
of the homeowner if they break or clog.
Often, sewer backups result from lines clogged by tree roots or
misuse of the sewers.
"The reason is simple - we can't control what people put down the
sewers," Davis said. "The growing cost was insurmountable."
In the case of De Reamor Circle, the city is paying because it's
not a common sewer backup, Davis said.
"This was the result of a water main break," he said. "We're not
admitting we did anything wrong. Water main breaks will happen.
Pipes will wear out.
"But Colorado Springs Utilities' philosophy is to assist people
in those situations."
So if a water main floods your house, the city will help.
"We want to pay what we owe," Davis said. "Our intent is to put
our customers back to where they were before the loss."
But only on a "cash-value" basis.
That means it will pay Scaranda what her 10-year-old carpet was
worth after a decade worth of wear and tear - not what it will cost
to replace the carpet.
"Where am I supposed to buy another 10-year-old carpet to replace
mine?" Scaranda asked. "Do they know something I don't know?"
Colorado Springs Utilities thinks it is being fair in making a
cash-value reimbursement to victims of broken water lines.
"We are only legally responsible to put you in 'like kind and
quality,"' Davis said.
So where does that leave Scaranda, a nurse and single mother, and
Holding the bag ... of clothes, of games and other items. And
wondering how they'll replace it all.
"It just doesn't seem fair," she said. "Why do I have to pay when
their waterline breaks?"
Davis said the city is trying to be fair.
He has suggestions to avoid similar problems.
First, he said, get sewer lines scoured once a year to prevent an
Second, find out if homeowners' insurance covers damage from
wastewater backups - on-premises and off-premises - and for how much
If not, consider buying supplemental insurance.
"It's available for homeowners and renters," Davis said, adding
broken waterlines and sewer lines are inevitable as the city's
utility infrastructure grows old.
"I can't imagine owning a home," he said, "and not having this
Looking back, neither can Scaranda.