Who is responsible when a sewer system backs up?

“I don’t have money like this. I’m retired.”
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 3:28 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2023 at 3:29 PM CST
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RAYTOWN, Mo. (KCTV) - Some Raytown homeowners are furious after they say a clogged sewer backed up in their homes and the city won’t cover the damages.

It happened on a rainy November night. It was a Saturday. Cheryl Douglas first noticed the smell, then saw the sewer water in her finished basement.

The same thing happened to her neighbor, Rochelle Perry.

“I went in the storage room and water was just gushing up out of the floor drain,” said Rochelle. “But, it was coming so fast. There was nothing I could do.”

In all, four homes were damaged.

Perry called A.B. May for help. The problem wasn’t inside their homes, however. The technician investigated further, went to a manhole cover and realized water wasn’t flowing in the city’s sewer. There was a clog in the sewer system.

“There is nothing [A.B. May] can do because it was the city,” Rochelle explained.

Rochelle and Cheryl tried to contact the city for help but they had to wait until Monday morning, when city workers returned to work.

The sewer water sat in their basements for two days.

However, as soon as city workers checked into it and were able to clear the sewer, it was solved almost instantly.

“Once they did that, all the water just-- like a vacuum,” Rochelle recalled. “It just all came out.”

Then came the cleanup. There are four connecting townhomes. Drywall and carpet had to be ripped out, which cost each homeowner between $7,000 and $17,000.

The homeowners believe that the city should be responsible for the damage.

“It’s not our fault,” said Rochelle.

But, the city refused and sent a letter to homeowners stating: ”We have completed our investigation into the above-mentioned matter and find no liability on the part of the City of Raytown. For the city to be liable they would have to be aware of an issue prior to an incident occurring.”

The city suggested the homeowners submit their homeowner’s insurance. But, the agents said it’s not covered because the problem was with the city’s sewer.

“I was really shocked and disappointed,” Cheryl said. “Hurt, upset, mad, crying and everything like that. Dang! I don’t have money like this. I’m retired.”

Cheryl and Rochelle told KCTV5 that attempts to discuss the matter with the city have gone nowhere. They aren’t asking for the city to pay for new carpet and drywall, just the cleanup.

KCTV5 reached out to the city on the homeowners’ behalf. They sent this statement:

“While we empathize with the frustration homeowners are experiencing, the City’s insurance company has completed its investigation and determined that the City is not liable. Missouri Law is very clear that the City must be aware of an issue prior to an incident occurring for there to be coverage (Christ vs. MSD, 2009). The City did not have prior knowledge of an issue with the sewer lines in your area. While it is unfortunate that this occurred, the City cleans the sewer lines regularly. This line in particular had just been flushed in May of 2022.”

The city also pointed out that backup coverage is offered to homeowners because insurance companies know that the city doesn’t cover sewer backups.

As for having to wait until Monday to report the problem, the city said there is an after-hours Public Works number to report sewer issues, potholes, or other roadway concerns. That number is 816-737-6020.