Originally published on timesunion.com.
NISKAYUNA — Two weeks after Caryn Luna shared her story with the Times Union about facing a bill for thousands of dollars for a broken service line pipe, she’s been flooded with support — and now relief.
A national emergency home repair foundation offered to do the work for free through a local contractor with parts donated by a Massachusetts-based company. Luna got a three-page letter from a former fellow Route 7 resident who faced foreclosure on her house after spending thousands on similar problems. The woman sent a $100 check with a heart drawn on it.
“I was crying. That’s so touching. The outpouring of strangers was amazing,” Luna said.
But even though her problem is solved now, she wants to change the town code so others don’t have the same problem.
Niskayuna’s code says the property owner is required to maintain the service pipe connecting the street main to their own premises. If a break isn’t repaired, water may be shut off. The town may then fix it, but would charge the owner and keep the water switched off until it was paid.
Myles Meehan, senior vice president for public relations for HomeServe who will fix Luna’s problem, said her situation isn’t unique. “What we want to do is demonstrate it’s a real problem homeowners have across the country and we have a solution that we can offer,” he said.
A day after Luna’s story was published, Meehan offered to do the work for free through HomeServe Cares, the charity foundation branch of the company. Soon afterward Massachusetts-based F.W. Webb Company volunteered to pay for the parts.
Meehan said the company has helped 217 homeowners who fell on hard times and can’t afford to have expensive repairs done. The company helps homeowners who pass an income test or those like Luna caught in a tricky predicament.
HomeServe, which is working with local contractor Express Rooter to do the work, estimates it will cost $5,000. The leak is right at the curb – fortunate for Luna, who discovered she was responsible for the service line pipe that runs under Route 7 to the main on the other side of the road. If the problem had been under the road, the cost would have tripled.
The only issue now, Meehan explained, is a utility pole right over the leak. He’s working with National Grid to bring a truck out to stabilize the pole while the work is completed – which he estimates will be an additional cost.
But Luna’s not alone in her plight. After the story was published, Luna received a three-page letter from Marjorie Corrow, a former Route 7 resident with similar problems. A friend sent Corrow, who now lives in Erie County, the story on social media.
“I immediately dropped everything and wrote her,” Corrow said Wednesday.
Corrow said a month after she bought the house at 2481 Troy-Schenectady Road in 2006, she began having problems with her pump system, which was responsible for getting wastewater from across Route 7 up to her house. When she got someone from the town to walk under the road through a manhole, she discovered the connect sewer line was only three feet deep. They’re usually six feet to avoid the frost line, she said.
Corrow said she went to 11 lawyers and heard the same thing: “the law is written to protect the town and it is the homeowner’s responsibility.”
She ended up spending more than $12,000 to continually fix the pump system. For nine months, she used a portable toilet. At 57, plans of selling her house and retiring from her small business were dashed and she had to get a deed in lieu of foreclosure.
“There is virtually no way to predict this,” Corrow’s letter read. “No home inspector can pre-warn you. No one has X-ray vision into the ground. Buyer beware.”
Luna plans to return Corrow’s check with a thank-you note and push to change the law to get restitution for Corrow and others.
Town Attorney Paul Briggs said there’s a common misconception the homeowner is only responsible for the connection on their property, but the code clearly sets a definition.
“Where do you draw the line?” he said. “If we change the law, will we have them checking people’s faucets?”
Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed told the Times Union she would bring up a possible code revision at the next Economic Development, Historic Preservation and Environmental Conservation committee meeting. It is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. July 5.