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HOA Q&A

Q: This summer our seniors’ Sun City Summerlin homeowners received a letter from Sewer Line Warranties of America, endorsed by the city of Las Vegas, reminding us that homeowners are responsible for their own underground sewer line repairs between their house slabs and the point where the sewer lateral is connected to the city sewer main in the middle of their streets.

Each home in our community has its own line and is on a public street. Sewer Line Warranties of America is offering reasonable insurance rates covering as much as $4,000 per incident and $4,000 for street cutting.

If a policy holder has a problem, he or she can call the company, and a plumber would be sent. All homeowners are responsible to add a sewer backup rider within their own homeowners’ policies and it’s a good idea to have a reputable plumber do an interior check of the sewer lines to the main sewer line every couple of years.

We are a subassociation of 60 duplex homes with front courtyards and common property between that and the street. Each house has a sewer line that runs to main line hookup.

Each house is either owner-occupied or rented out by owners who often live out of state. Keeping them informed is difficult.

We often have low turnouts at our meetings that are held four times a year. This is a concern in reaching out-of-state owners since we’ve recently had one serious incident that happened to a noninsured very senior neighbor.

A few weeks ago she had a toilet back up on a Friday night. Her plumber apparently had been called out on a similar incident a few months before. At that time he mentioned tree roots and the problem seemed to be fixed.

The matter of sewer line insurance came up at our last meeting and although she was there she didn’t mention it. This time he ran a camera through and told her that tree roots had broken the line on the road side next to the sidewalk and wanted $11,000 before he’d do any repairs.

She reached into her savings and credit card to pay. He dug into the road. When a couple of our board members discovered this, the city and master association were called and came out but they refused to take responsibility.

The tree itself is on common property in front of her house outside her courtyard.

Our subassociation president, community manager and another board member met with a lawyer for his opinion to find out who was actually responsible. He told them that, since the homeowner is responsible for the sewer line running from the house to the point where the service lateral is connected to the city’s sewer main, it is completely the woman’s responsibility and not the homeowners association, even though the tree itself is in the common area.

That makes sense for single homes, but for duplexes and townhouses within a subassociation this seems to be a bleary area.

A former board member suggested that if she decided to sue the board would she have a case?

A: This is the second plumbing question that I have received this week. First, it is important for any homeowner to check out this sewer line company, Sewer Line Warranties of America, before contacting them on any of their sewer issues. I have no personal knowledge about this company. Most homeowner insurance policies do not cover these kinds of incidents as to the repairing of broken sewer lines. Generally, the policies will cover any subsequent damages, such as sewer backups into your home. If this company is a legitimate one, and if their premiums make sense, this could be the answer for many homeowners who have had to spend much money in repairing broken lines.

Does the homeowner have a case to sue the association?

Anyone can sue whether you win is a different matter. An attorney would review the governing documents of the association, specifically the community rules as to the responsibility of the association and the homeowner.

In this case, the service lateral line was specific to the homeowner’s unit; that in itself places the responsibility upon the homeowner. But, the break in the line was caused by tree roots from a tree in the common area. Many of the pipe breakages are caused by tree roots.

Knowing why the pipe broke, is the association responsible for the repairs? Again, there must be a careful review of the community’s rules to determine if there are any sections that would support or not support the lady’s case in seeking reimbursement from the association. Ultimately, an arbitrator, mediator or a judge would have to make a ruling base upon the covenants and the facts of the case.

The lady should at least discuss this tree with the board to see if the association would remove the tree or see what other steps the association can take so that she does not have any additional pipe breaks caused by tree roots. If another such break should occur, then the association would have some liability as to the repairs, especially if the association failed to take any action to prevent any future damages.

Barbara Holland, certified property manager, broker and supervisory certified association manager, is president and owner of H&L Realty and Management Co. Questions may be sent to the Association Q&A, P.O. Box 7440, Las Vegas, Nev., 89125. Fax is 702-385-3759, email is support@hlrealty.com.

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