Southwest Omaha homeowners fight city over sewer backup damages
Neighbors in a Southwest Omaha neighborhood say the city needs to clean up its act.
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The smell of sewer water invading their basements won’t be soon forgotten by a pair of Southwest Omaha families near 106th and Y Streets.
Refinishing a finished basement heavily damaged by a sewer backup became a do-it-yourself that cost the Bayliss family about $6,000.
“Because the city was unwilling to take responsibility and the way they were acting, we were afraid they were going to fight us on the claim,” Crystal Bayliss said. “We didn’t want to be out $20,000 or something and have to float that.”
What floated into their basement about a year ago led to a claim filed with the City of Omaha.
The homeowners came down into their finished basement, the carpet already soaked and getting worse -- so they opened a door to see a drain -- and raw sewage coming out.
Crystal says photos don’t give a real sense of the damage.
“The smell was just horrible,” Crystal said. “The floor covered in toilet paper and human waste.”
While the city paid for emergency cleanup, a claim for repair damage has recently been denied.
“They said it’s not their fault, it’s not the result of negligence,” Crystal said.
Surprising, Crystal says, since soon after the backup, a man in a city truck she believed to be a supervisor provided an apology that sounds like the city taking responsibility.
“What we found was a lot of asphalt rock, sticks and a lot of rags,” the supervisor said. “So that’s going to help in the process of your claim because now I’m thinking it is mine.”
Omaha’s attorney on claims says if it’s a city employee speaking, he would not have the authority to bind the city in terms of a decision on responsibility for the backup and payment of damages.
“I think the city should take responsibility.”
Across the street, Stephanie Olson suffered basement damage in the same sewer backup.
“It was like a geyser, it was gurgling up and the whole basement filled,” Olson said. “It had about two inches of water in it.”
Olson just filed a claim despite the neighbor’s denial letter from the city.
“I kept going out to the street and asking ‘what are you finding,’ and they told me there was asphalt and tree debris,” Olson said.
But the claim denial states the location had no history of backups, and the city was not aware of objects in the line before the clog.
Pat Lemmers, who sells policies for about a dozen insurance companies, says homeowners should ask their agent about a $50 per year sewer backup rider.
“By having it covered, the insurance company is coming out and fixing it right away,” Lemmers said. “You pay your deductible, then they go after the city.”
Waiting on a city claim for damage repairs and sewage-contaminated valuables, Stephanie Olson developed a backup plan in case of another backup.
“Everything is on racks because I’m worried about it happening again,” Olson said.
By state law, the city is only negligent and liable if Public Works knew about a sewer obstruction before a backup and failed to remove it within a reasonable amount of time. The assistant city attorney says that didn’t happen in this case. The denial means the homeowners can go to court, but legal fees could exceed the damage claim.
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