Does your insurance company cover Water Main and Sewer damage?

October 25, 2018

This topic seems to be an extremely controversial topic and continues to come up as time passes. The first point of confusion for the average homeowner is if the homeowner’s insurance policy covers “plumbing work”.

In many cases the property owner fails to explain that the plumbing work is actually sub surface water main and sewer pipes that require excavations of the sidewalk or the roadway. There are many homeowner insurance policies that cover general plumbing work, yet not the sub surface plumbing world. When speaking with your insurance carrier it is important to explain in detail, or even have your plumbing contractor speak with them.

In some cases the homeowner’s insurance policy will cover damage that a broken water main or backed up sewer may have caused inside the house. It is important to discuss these facts even if the insurance company has denied your claim.

Water & Sewer Line protection plans

Over time many property owners have opted into different insurance programs that specialize in water main and sewer repairs. The problem is that most homeowners do not read the fine print.

What can go wrong with your insurance coverage?

There are are few water main and sewer insurance companies who are completely upfront with their policy and explain all details to the customer prior to enrollment however, there are other water main and sewer insurance companies that are completely misleading. The first issue our customers are experiencing is understanding all details on their coverage. The policy is not completely clear and does not explain that the sub surface water main and sewer coverage is on the property only. This causes a big issue for NYC property owners, the owner is actually responsible for the water main and sewer piping from the house, all the way out to the street.

This factor does not vary pending the layout of your home in accordance to the city mains. Your house may be located 100’ away from the city main. If you have a problem in the middle of the street you are responsible to repair or replace the pipe.

Recently in Brooklyn our customer had a leak 115’ away from the house on a lead pipe. Due to the material of the pipe she was required to replace the entire water main with copper. At first she was relieved after realizing that she had purchased a water & sewer line protection plan from a national insurance company yet failed to realize her coverage stopped at the property line. Her property consisted of the first 14’ of the entire service line. Not only did the insurance company not cover the water main replacement, they denied her for the entire claim stating that it was her choice to have the pipe replaced on the property and she could have had the main repaired in the street.

Water main replacement denied by insurance
Water main replacement denied by insurance

In other cases the insurance company will not cover pipes that are broken by a third party. Recently our customer reported a sewer backup to her insurance company who determined that the sewer was actually broken under the sidewalk and needed repair. Again, this homeowner was grateful for her specialty water main and sewer insurance coverage before she was made aware of the denial.

The insurance company said that there was a fresh patch of concrete in front of the neighbors house and whoever was working in this area must have broken the sewer line.

Insurance company denies due to neighbors fresh concrete
Insurance company denies due to neighbors fresh concrete

She pleaded that the sewer line is 9’ deep and it was the gas company who worked at this location over one year ago. Like every other insurance company, they benefit if they do not have to come out of pocket. This was another opportunity to pass the buck!

Another common reason for denial is pending the size or material of your pipe. The interesting part about this is that most insurance companies do not perform an on-site investigation and are quick to allow anyone to enroll.

Recently in Manhattan our customer was issued a DEP Cease & Desist Notice for a broken sewer line. The roadway started to sink which led the DEP to perform a camera inspection and finally concluded that the broken sewer line was undermining the street.

broken sewer causes Roadway sinkhole NYC
Roadway sinkhole NYC

After a site investigation by the insurance company, they denied the claim because the sewer line was 8” and they only cover up to 6” pipe. This homeowner should have never been allowed to purchase the insurance program as all buildings in Manhattan are required to have a minimum of a 8” sewer line. The property owner continued to fight and ultimately had to spend over $10,000 out of pocket for the repair. This was all after paying his insurance premium for over three years.

Recently in Queens a property owner was approved for a sewer line repair by his insurance company. The repair was approved for a 5’ section of clay pipe under the sidewalk. The issue was that he had another 50’ of old clay pipe that he knows will fall in a short period of time, once the grounds are disturbed the remaining sections of piping will start to shift and sag. When tampering with a clay pipe it is easy to understand that the surrounding pipe will crack or even collapse.

Broken clay sewer line
Old clay pipe

This insurance company was adamant about leaving the surrounding pipe. The customer finally agreed and requested that he use the funds for the repair work and allocate it towards the full line replacement, which he was having done by another company. He received a quick denial of his request and ended up paying for an entire new sewer line in addition to the 18 months of sewer line protection coverage.

New cast iron sewer line
New cast iron sewer line

There are many other variables to consider pending the insurance company you are looking to enroll with. It is suggested to consult with a licensed water main and sewer contractor prior and make sure you understand exactly what you are singing up for.

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