Thomas and Linda Sindoni, who live on 12th Avenue in Whitestone, say when they discovered earlier this summer that they had a broken sewer line after a routine inspection in June, they contacted American Water Resources (AWR) to file a claim through the Water and Sewer Service Line Protection Program.
Before AWR was contracted by the city to run the program in January of 2013, homeowners were on the hook for the cost of any repairs to their sewer line, even if the damage was under the street where the line connects to the city's main sewer line.
Now, homeowners who sign up for the program – which the Sindoni's did in March of 2013 – can be reimbursed for the repairs, which can run anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000, typically.
However, Linda Sindoni said she was told by a representative from AWR that the break in the line was the result of a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered through the program.
“I took part in the program in good faith, and I think that AWR should honor the contract in good faith,” said Sindoni.
A spokesperson for AWR said the company was originally contacted to correct a clogged pipe, which they tried to address, not a broken sewer line.
But Linda Sindoni said the local sewer repair company AWR - which is based in Illinois - sent to her home didn't discover the break in the pipe because they refused to do a camera inspection due to a broken rubber hose from the initial routine maintenance that was still in the line.
Only after the Sindoni's spent $1,000 of their own money to hire another company to do a camera inspection did they confirm the pipe was broken, but at that point AWR denied their claim.
The protection program was implemented in part due to the protest of State Senator Tony Avella, who argued that the city should be responsible for making sewer repairs, not the individual homeowner.
“I still think the city should pay for it, but at least they came up with something,” said Avella. “But it's a problem if the company DEP hired isn't going to honor claims.
Avella said at a press conference at the Sindoni home last week that AWR could argue every claim is the result of a pre-existing condition.
“They don't come and look at the pipes when the homeowner signs up, they just start taking the money,” he said.
Avella said his office has been contacted by one other homeowner who had a similar issue, but the decision in the case was reversed.
According to AWR, to date 160,000 city homeowners have signed up for the program, and the company has covered over $18 million in repairs. AWR counters that its customer satisfaction ratings are above 95 percent.
But Linda Sindoni is firmly in the other 5 percent.
“All they did was call me up and tell me there was nothing they could do,” she said.