7 On Your Side

SF supervisor concerned about water pipe repairs

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

What if a city project caused your plumbing to burst? That's what's happened to dozens of homeowners in San Francisco and the work isn't done yet.

The work is going on right now -- a contractor is installing wireless water meters at all 177,000 homes in the city. It can cause plumbing damage, and in many cases, the contractor says, "Too bad, so sad, homeowners have to pay for their own repairs." Now one city supervisor says that's not fair.

"So, we need the water, and there's no water," said Mike Reid.

Like a growing number of San Francisco homeowners, Reid returned home one day to a sudden disaster.

"I come out to the street here and I turn it on and it comes gushing back," said Reid.

A city contractor had just installed a new wireless water meter at Reid's house and it caused his water main to burst. After it happened, he saw the contractor still working down the street.

"I yelled at him. I said, 'Hey, you broke my water pipe!' And they just ignored me, and I said, 'Hey, you broke my water pipe!' And they said, 'That's your problem!'" said Reid.

Reid said the contractor, Grid One Solutions, told him to pay for repairs himself. It cost $2,500 -- a big hit for the 75 year old retiree.

"We live on about $2,300 a month," said Reid.

He said he contacted the San Francisco Water Department and was told the same thing -- he was responsible for the repairs because the pipe falls on his property.

"I know the pipe is your problem, but I didn't break it, they did. And what perturbed me is they just left us flat," said Reid.

He is not alone.

"I said, 'But I didn't have a leak before and now I do and so I think you should fix it.' He said, 'No,'" said Dianne Zinky.

We told you earlier about Zinky, whose pipe burst during a meter exchange. It cost $3,200 to fix. Helen McGuigan, 77, had the same problem, costing her $4,200, and so did John Lubimir who's out $5,800. There are now 69 cases of broken pipes during the meter exchange, up from 45 cases reported last September, and there are nearly 110,000 meters yet to be installed citywide.

"We do ask that they find a plumber that's their plumber or a reputable plumber that they hire, have the repair made," said Suzanne Gautier of the San Francisco Water Department.

Gautier says unless the contractor did something wrong, homeowners have to pay for repairs. Pipes tend to break only if they are in poor condition.

"The policy is that the homeowner is responsible. We're providing a service of the meter," said Gautier.

"I don't see that as a property owner's responsibility," said San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Wiener disagrees. He represents District 8 where several pipes broke. He says it's not fair to burden the homeowner.

"A contractor comes in and does something you didn't even ask for that's part of a citywide system upgrade and then all of a sudden your pipe breaks and you have to pay thousands of dollars. That's not something we want to be happening and property owners should not have to bear this cost," said Wiener.

The Water Department acknowledges this work can break pipes.

"What tends to happen as you shut off the water, it causes a slight ripple or shock in the system," said Tyrone Jue from the Water Department.

"In some cases the pipe is so old, it's unfortunate that it was broken at the time of the exchange," said Gautier.

But Wiener says old pipes may hold up if it had not been for the meter work.

"I don't think it's a good answer to say, 'Well, you had an old pipe that may have broken down anyway,'" said Wiener.

Grid One Solutions did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the broken pipes.

Previously, the company released a statement saying: "We treat claims very seriously and have a well-established process in place to respond to each and every claim."

Reid says he never knew about filing a claim. Gautier insists the contractor does give out that information.

"Yes, of course, and they are behaving in a professional manner," said Gautier.

"No. They just told me, 'It's your pipe. You eat it,'" said Reid.

Officials say pipe breaks are rare -- only about 1 in 1,000 homes have had a problem. And, after 7 On Your Side got involved, McGuigan was reimbursed for her damage. Zinky got her money back too. Reid and others, however, are out of luck.

Claims for damages during the San Francisco Water Meter Exchange should be filed first with the city attorney. Most claims are turned over to the contractor, Grid One Solutions. Here's the link to file a claim with the city: www.sfcityattorney.org

Wiener advises residents also to file a claim by calling 311; be sure to obtain a tracking number that you can use to inquire about your complaint.

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water, water main break, 7 on your side, michael finney
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