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Old 03-22-2012, 06:37 AM   #1
kartracer23
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Default Can you fight City Hall?

So I may have a bit of a fight on my hands...
I'm on city sewer and had a back up issue. My plumber came over and put a cutter down the clean out. Got to a certain point, couldn't go any further and just pulled back mud. My line is 13 ft. deep so it's impossible to tell exactly how far out you are, but we knew it was somewhere between the last 10 ft. of my line and the main.

So for the last 2 days, I've had an excavator there digging a 13 ft. deep hole in my yard / sidewalk / street. Finally found where I connect into the main, pull the tap off, and the main is 100% chock full of mud. Call the sewer department and they come out to look. Tell us to cut a hole in the main downstream from my tap. Again, 100% full of mud. I asked the guys from the sewer department if the city was responsible for this then. I got 'uh....I'm not going to comment on this. You'll have to go higher up the chain.' Which pretty much tells me that the city is responsible.

The director of public works and the mayor already have an e-mail from me asking for reimbursement (we're going to be between $7,000-$10,000 by the time this is done). The mayor stopped by to look at it yesterday, but I haven't heard back from him.

I'm pretty sure they're going to try to deny any responsibility even though the city code clearly states that the homeowner is responsible for anything to the main and the city is responsible for the main forward. Anyone gone through this before?

Oh-this main bisects the block (basically under my driveway). We're going to tap into another one that is in the middle of the street - we know it's clear. Talking to my neighbor yesterday, he said he's started to have plumbing issues, too so this could get interesting.
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Old 03-22-2012, 08:05 AM   #2
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

All I can do is wish you good luck!
What seems to be most prevalent almost everywhere in todays society is the "its not my fault" attitude! IMHO you can safely bet that city hall WILL deny your claim at least 3 times before you get any kind of satisfaction.
Don't be too surprised when they try the "its all YOUR fault" thing & try to put the whole bill on you. The "pay up now or we will put it + interest on your taxes" threat, or the "pay up or we will bill you way more" threat. These are all common threats in these parts. I also wouldn't be too surprised to see them back down from their, its all your fault position, to the "Listen we're the good guys here by being extremely lenient & making you only pay for your own damage" position. That seems to be the big stick they hit you with around here anyway.

Either way, good luck with it & don't give up. It sure looks like it's the city's fault to me. This is looking to be an interesting thread, keep us posted!

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Old 03-22-2012, 08:51 AM   #3
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

About 10 years ago I had a very similar problem. My plumbing was always backing up, hired a guy to check it out with a camera and he said it was stuff coming in from the main. The connection between my line and the city line was stuffed full of something.

Called the city and within the same day they had a couple of guys out to check for themselves. Next day came heavy equipment and the city fixed the problem. I asked who pays my bill for the guy I hired, nothing. Didn't follow up any further.

Good Luck, doesn't seem like they work the same way as here.

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Old 03-22-2012, 08:55 AM   #4
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

If they don't give you any satisfaction, call a news crew in. City officials LOVE it when the news crew shows up at city hall asking questions about public health concerns like the sewage system.
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Old 03-22-2012, 09:02 AM   #5
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

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Originally Posted by Mmfh View Post
About 10 years ago I had a very similar problem. My plumbing was always backing up, hired a guy to check it out with a camera and he said it was stuff coming in from the main. The connection between my line and the city line was stuffed full of something.

Called the city and within the same day they had a couple of guys out to check for themselves. Next day came heavy equipment and the city fixed the problem. I asked who pays my bill for the guy I hired, nothing. Didn't follow up any further.

Good Luck, doesn't seem like they work the same way as here.

Mm
I'm sure one of their arguments is going to be 'You should have called us first'. Yeah. Right. If every time a homeowner called becasue they had a back up the 10 person sewer department would be overwhelmed so fast it wouldn't be funny. I've already thought up all my arguments to this part of it.
I'm going to fight hard & fast on this one and not let up.

Ironically, where the mayor claims to live is across the street (the backhoe is in his yard right now). He actually lives outside the city limits (making him ineligible to be mayor), but claimed he lived there with his step son during the election. We had court cases & appeals over it and he eventually prevailed.
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Old 03-22-2012, 09:05 AM   #6
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

Wait, so you dug up to the main and tore out a public road and sidewalk? Did you even get approval and permits for something like that? Here they would throw a shit fit.

If we had a problem here, you make sure it's the main and then call the city, they will dig it up and repair. No real problems. I think problems will come when I take it in my own hands and then send them the bill for it as they will say "should have called first after verification".
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Old 03-22-2012, 09:32 AM   #7
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

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Wait, so you dug up to the main and tore out a public road and sidewalk? Did you even get approval and permits for something like that? Here they would throw a shit fit.

If we had a problem here, you make sure it's the main and then call the city, they will dig it up and repair. No real problems. I think problems will come when I take it in my own hands and then send them the bill for it as they will say "should have called first after verification".
Oh yeah, permits were pulled and all that. The city won't touch anything but the main-it's the home owner's responsibility until it connects to the main. I even have to do the backfill, then put in 8" of concrete in the road and then have the road repaved. City doesn't pay a dime of it or do any of it. Even the sidewalk and curb is my responsibility.

There's no way to know it's the main until you get 13 ft. down there. .The closest cleanout for that main is nearly 100 yards away from where I was connected in so it's not something they could have even investigated. My cleanout is about 50 ft. from where it connected and we knew from the snake that we were close, but it's impossible to know 100% where you are with the twists and turns and drops.
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Old 03-22-2012, 09:43 AM   #8
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

At this point, I'm going to say that part of the issue is your plumber. The moment you got even close to the main, he should have known and that is when the phone calls should have started. In my area, it starts at the sidewalk. I own everthing from the inside edge in....everything from the inside ege out belongs to the county....if there is even any question...you call the city....let them tear up the sidewalk and street.

I'm inclined to think that a sewer camera would have been able to tell how far down you were.
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Old 03-22-2012, 10:08 AM   #9
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

I've had to fight City Hall. They ended up paying every last penny. Different type issue, not easy, but can be done.
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Old 03-22-2012, 10:35 AM   #10
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

I work for a city, and we work on sewers all the time. Heres my advice. Have your plumber or you get everything on video and pictures. Your plumber should have a camera snake that he can send down. Have him make a tape of the clogged pipe. You should have one before he even started digging, from you house to the main. Then give that to your city officials. Sounds like someone is putting something down the sanitary sewer that shouldn't go there, the city should have a jet truck that can clean it out the main. Also I think you can get it put on your assessments. Does your city have an engineering dept?
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Old 03-22-2012, 10:59 AM   #11
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

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I work for a city, and we work on sewers all the time. Heres my advice. Have your plumber or you get everything on video and pictures. Your plumber should have a camera snake that he can send down. Have him make a tape of the clogged pipe. You should have one before he even started digging, from you house to the main. Then give that to your city officials. Sounds like someone is putting something down the sanitary sewer that shouldn't go there, the city should have a jet truck that can clean it out the main. Also I think you can get it put on your assessments. Does your city have an engineering dept?
We have photos of the main full of mud, and the superintendent saw it as well. Maybe it's different here, but the city won't touch anything on your property or even in the street until you get to the main. Hell, the superintendent brought my plumber a saddle and that's it-didn't even bring straps for it. They don't even have to be there to inspect it or anything. It's 100% the homeowners deal until you get to the main. I've had a number of friends that have gone through this as well-they just didn't find a clogged main. Had my pipe been the issue I would have paid for it no problem. But it wasn't my pipe where the problem was.

It's a 24" clay tile main that was installed in the '40s. And we don't have a jetter...or an engineering department.
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Old 03-22-2012, 12:41 PM   #12
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

My niece just had the sewer back up into her basement. The problem was at the main line. The city is paying all the costs of cleanup. It seemed to be resolved very easily in her case.
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Old 03-22-2012, 12:47 PM   #13
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

Looks like you oppened pandoras s&@t box good luck
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Old 03-22-2012, 01:27 PM   #14
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

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Originally Posted by kartracer23 View Post
We have photos of the main full of mud, and the superintendent saw it as well. Maybe it's different here, but the city won't touch anything on your property or even in the street until you get to the main. Hell, the superintendent brought my plumber a saddle and that's it-didn't even bring straps for it. They don't even have to be there to inspect it or anything. It's 100% the homeowners deal until you get to the main. I've had a number of friends that have gone through this as well-they just didn't find a clogged main. Had my pipe been the issue I would have paid for it no problem. But it wasn't my pipe where the problem was.

It's a 24" clay tile main that was installed in the '40s. And we don't have a jetter...or an engineering department.

Sounds like you are in a crappy spot there man. I would get the main cleaned, get everything finished up, get everything documented and recorded. Then I would give the city the bill. If they refuse I would approach a lawyer and the local news.


I'm curious how the city can not even check their own main, I can't imagine it to be that terribly difficult. Regardless if you have a clog or not, the main should be still kept clear and that is the cities responsibility. I don't know how the city can sit on a clogged main and force every home owner to first dig up before they even investigate.
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Old 03-22-2012, 01:37 PM   #15
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

Sounds like that old clay tile main is cracked or broken and is sucking in dirt. I suspect the city will be digging up the entire street eventually to replace it. Hope it doesn't cause a sinkhole to appear and swallow up the street.

For those who suggested the plumber run a camera down the line before digging, remember, this line was clogged up, apparently nearly solid, no way a camera would have gone thru at all. Camera works great on an empty pipe, doesn't work at all in a pipe full of crap and paper.

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Old 03-22-2012, 01:49 PM   #16
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

The mayor came by? Ours only shows up for ribbon cuttings
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Old 03-22-2012, 02:07 PM   #17
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

Well, here's the city's first line of defense: They're claiming it's a 'private lateral' and not theirs. LOL! Yeah, because most homeowners put in a 12" pipe and THEN hook it to a storm basin (storm basin is abandoned, but still under the road).
Fortunately, when the city came out to mark the mains, they marked this one too-they knew it was there.
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Old 03-22-2012, 02:30 PM   #18
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

When is the next city hall meeting. I'd be there and raise holly hell.
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Old 03-22-2012, 02:32 PM   #19
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

I agree with the poster above about contacting the media.. small local papers love to run stories like this. In my community (rural North Carolina south of Raleigh) we did just that when confronted with some bogus zoning issues.... we raised enough of a stink and became enough of a thorn in their side that they dropped/resolved the issue.

If all else fails contact a lawyer and see what your rights are and if the city is in compliance with their actions... just a thought! =)
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Old 03-23-2012, 01:06 AM   #20
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Default Re: Can you fight City Hall?

Well I guess if you got photos/video of the 24" main being clogger with mud or whatever. Your city should be concerned. And it should be there fault for the sewer back up. The city I work for has a camera truck, they can send down a little RC-like car with a camera that can rotate 360 degree and up and down to view for cracked pipes.

Sounds like the clay title main is caved in. If the city won't pay and its there fault for a main failure...I'd get a lawyer.
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