Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sewer Line Repairs Redux, Part 2

(NOTE: This is the second post in my Sewer Line Repairs Redux series.)

So our plumber Ditch-Witched his way down to the spot in our sewer line where roots were invading it. Once there, he discovered that the line had been previously modified by someone — and that those modifications were faulty and ... uh ... substandard.

Okay ... the previous repairs were just plain half-assed. And I was going to get to pay for it.

Ma Bell Gets Her Hands Dirty

"See how that black line is right on top of your sewer line?" the plumbing-company owner asked us. "What's happened here is that SBC or AT&T or whomever owns that black line — they're probably the people who broke your sewer line originally. Then they tried to fix it."

Turns out that in our area, when AT&T/SBC installs their lines, they simply dig down a few feet somewhere, determine which direction they need their line to run, and then use a horizontal-boring machine to drill the path for the line. If something else happens to be at that same depth, somewhere down the path of the drilling ... well, it's going to get hit.

Which is apparently what happened in our yard. Years ago — probably when some guy named Reagan was munching jelly beans and running the country — AT&T was in our backyard, installing their line. They set their line at a depth that was pretty much equal to our sewer line, so when they bored the path horizontally, their drilling machinery tagged our sewer line. As per Standard Operating Procedure, they contracted someone else to come in and repair it. That "someone" performed what my father-in-law deemed, ever so quaintly, as a "piss-poor, half-assed job." (He too saw the handiwork firsthand.)

"You can file a claim with AT&T for this," Mr. Plumbing Owner Guy told us. "I see this sort of thing all the time. Sometimes the phone company will pay for all of it, part of it, or none of it. But you ought to at least try. Just be sure and take some pictures."

Which — after the plumbers finished up the repairs and we paid them — is exactly what I did.

And (gasp!) it worked.

For Once, AT&T Paid Me

To be honest, I estimated my odds of collecting any sort of renumeration from AT&T to be roughly zero. But I was pleasantly surprised. (Well, "stunned" is probably more like it. Or "aghast.")

We opened our claim with AT&T Risk Management a day after the repairs were completed. The next morning, I received a call from them. "Vicki" was quite pleasant, and verified our claim number, address, and assorted other personal information. She then asked for a verbal run-down of the situation. I gave her that, always careful to avoid the demanding, "Give me what I want, or else!" tone that I hear from so many folks every single day. Vicki then requested that I mail her copies of our paid invoices, as well as whatever pics we had of the sewer line and the poor repairs.

Done, and done. I also included a three-page letter re-documenting the whole thing, as well as copies of all the invoices of all the augering repairs we'd paid during the last several years. (Did I want reimbursement for this? No. But I considered it sort of "tangential evidence" or something.)

She called me back a few days later. "I've received all your photos and your letter," she told me. "We're willing to consider reimbursement for the seventeen hundred dollars for sewer repairs, as well as the three hundred dollars for the initial camera inspection."

I pondered that for a moment. "Don't worry about the camera bill," I told her. "If you guys would just help me out with the big repair bill, I'd be more than happy."

I'm fairly certain that that wasn't what she expected to hear from me. I think she said something along the lines of "Really?" Or "Are you sure?"

"Yes," I said. "I'll take care of the camera charges if you guys will help me with the rest of it."

"Well, you sound like a very honest guy," she said. (I'm not kidding.) "And the documentation you sent is much more detailed that what I usually see in this job. If you can get me a little better invoice from the plumber, with, say, a detailed labor and parts breakdown, then I'm willing to issue you a check for seventeen hundred and twenty dollars as soon as we get off the phone."


So yeah, I faxed her a better invoice. And pronto. And about a week later, I got a check in the mail.

Whoulda thunk it?

What I've Learned From This

Seriously: I was stunned that AT&T ponied up for all of the repairs. (Well, minus the camera charges, but I took that upon myself. "Cost of being a homeowner," is how I classify it. Besides — a whole lot of life is about playing give-and-take. I do my best to play each side fairly.)

So what wisdom did I gain from this experience?

• Keep records of home repairs.
It's just good practice, and as my experience just showed, they can be extremely valuable! Like worth $1,720. (Plus documented repairs and upgrades can go against your cost basis when you sell the home.) In our case, we file all bills and home-related repairs and such in a filing cabinet, with a folder for each company we've done business with.

• Photos — before and after — are your friends. Take them.
The first thing the AT&T Risk Management representative asked for? Photos of the sewer line and related area. I didn't have much, but what I had was enough, apparently. In retrospect, I should've been around on Day Two of the repairs, so I could have taken some shots of the half-assed previous repairs when they were fully unearthed. This is one of those times when I probably couldn't have gathered too much information and/or detail.

• Be nice — at least until you have a reason not to be. It pays off.
It never ceases to amaze me how so many people, when they're requesting an out-of-the-ordinary or above-and-beyond product or service from someone else, act like belligerent, spoiled children. If you act like a jerk-off, and I'm in a position to help you with, say, a just-out-of-warranty concern on your car, then you're stacking the deck against yourself from Moment One. Act courteous and reasonable, and there's a really good chance you'll get at least part of what you want — if not all of it.

Oh, and from the "Isn't it Ironic?" side of things, early last month my household dropped AT&T as our long-distance, landline carrier, and went with our cable company. (This was completed several weeks before the sewer repairs.)

And you know what? Now I feel kind of ... bad ... about dumping AT&T. Really.

Goodness knows the cable folks haven't ever cut me a check for seventeen hundred bucks.

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— Posted by Michael @ 9:45 AM


Wow, that is quite a story, with a great and unexpected payoff for you! I guess it shows that it never hurts to ask, especially when you're dealing with a big company with deep pockets.


That is AMAZING! I can't believe they paid you back for that. I guess that old motto, "If you don't ask, you won't receive" rings true on this one.

Years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) hit a pothole in the street near a construction site. The repair was $90. We decided to file a claim with the city and amazingly, they referred us to the contractor that was working in the area and we were reimbursed. Not as big of a claim as yours but it still reinforces that you should always ask for what you think you are entitled to.


Yeah, I'm still stunned by the outcome. I really thought I had no shot.

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