Homeowners in some of North Texas’ biggest cities — Fort Worth, Arlington and North Richland Hills — contacted Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation to ask about a mailing they received advertising a new company selling repair protection for water and sewer lines. They wonder whether it’s legitimate.
As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, American Water Resources of Texas, which bought its state license in November, is a residential service company that promises to cover some repairs to water and sewer lines outside a home.
Generally, water and sewer lines would be covered to the point where the cities take over the lines — at the water meter and where the sewer line hits the main drain.
Enough homeowners peppered their water and sewer departments with questions about the mailing that all three cities felt compelled to take stronger-than-usual action to address concerns.
Fort Worth posted a notice on its website with the headline “Water Department does not endorse service line warranty programs.”
North Richland Hills spokeswoman Mary Peters told me, “I’m glad you are writing about this” because the city received questions. She wanted to counter what she considered an exaggeration in the mailing.
Arlington officials went as far as contacting the company and asking for changes on the website. Arlington wants residents to know that it offers a repair program that goes beyond what many other cities offer.
Water Resources’ plan works much like an extended warranty for an appliance. Buyers gamble that they will need it someday. The key word is gamble.
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First, as Water Resources says in its mailing, cities generally do not pay for repairs to water and sewer lines from the house to the city’s portion of the lines. That’s the homeowner’s responsibility. Repairs can cost thousands of dollars but sometimes cost far less.
Many insurance companies cover little of the repair cost from leaks. Water Resources does somewhat, but it doesn’t pay to repair any waterline clogs or blockages. The company also says it pays for leaks or breaks in sewer lines only if they’re caused by a blockage or a clog.
Water Resources charges $5 a month for up to $5,000 in waterline repairs and $9 a month for up to $4,000 in sewer-line repairs, with $4,000 more covered if a roadway has to be dug up. There’s also a $50 service fee per sewer line problem but no charge for a waterline problem.
Company officials told me that those are the only out-of-pocket costs for customers. After a problem is found — if it is covered — the company hires a contractor, gets required permits and completes the covered repairs.
The company has a perfect rating from the Better Business Bureau. The Texas Real Estate Commission, which regulates home warranty companies, says the company is too new to have any complaints on file.
The company is a subsidiary of the 126-year-old American Water Co., a publicly traded water- and wastewater-utility company based in New Jersey. Cities that outsource their water and sewer services use such companies.
American Water Resources of Texas was formed as part of the company’s expansion into other states.
As with any service warranty company, it’s important to look at what isn’t covered. Anything not resulting from normal wear and tear on water and sewer lines, such as problems caused by a homeowner or other third party, problems caused by natural disasters or anything caused by poor construction or defective materials, isn’t covered.
Arlington officials wanted the company to make sure that the public knows that Arlington offers a repair program for the portion of a sewer line in the public right of way or in a utility easement, even if it’s on a homeowner’s property, but only in cases of structural failure of the sewer line in that area.
North Richland Hills officials want residents to know that a photograph on the company’s brochure showing a bulldozer digging up a front yard is a bit overdone.
“Most service line problems we hear about from homeowners are minor issues such as roots getting in the line,” Peters said. “In that situation, all a homeowner needs to do is call a plumber to clear the line.”
Fort Worth offers a program for water customers who have a leak. They can send receipts for plumbing repairs and parts to the Water Department and request a 50 percent cut in their water bill for a leak adjustment.
Fort Worth gives sound advice on its website: “Like with any insurance or warranty program, individuals should do their own due diligence to learn what is and is not covered and what exceptions apply.”
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