City refuses to pay for sewage backup it caused

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Alejandro Puyana spent $1,100 to fix damage the city of Austin caused. Sometime in December, the city did repair work to the main sewage line near Duval Street.

Suddenly, Alejandro started to see sewage bubbling up in his commodes and bathtub. The plumber who came out to fix it spent more than three hours digging through the dirt on the outside of the house. He ran a snake through the line to see what the problem was, and came up empty.

“They ran over 300 feet of cable and he basically ran into a dead end,” said Puyana.

The plumber told Alejandro he was not even hooked up to the city’s sewage line. Alejandro paid $1,100 to the plumber to dig up the damage, take look, and then refill the hole around the pipe.

The same night, after midnight, the city sent out a crew and also determined nothing could be done at that time. They confirmed to Alejandro that city workers had neglected to reconnect his line to the main after completing their repairs to the main.

“Well, it’s completely unfair,” said Puyana.  He said he assumed the city would reimburse him since it was, after all, caused by work done by the city in the first place. “I totally assumed the city would reimburse me.”

But instead,  the city sent him a letter saying they were “denying his request for reimbursement.”

And legally, they don’t have to pay the Austin resident back.  Because even though the city caused the damage, they are not legally responsible to pay for any of the repairs. State law says the city is not liable for damages caused while performing certain government functions.

The letter from the city says they are “legally immune from the property damage being claimed, and that they are not responsible for damage resulting from a negligent or non-negligent act of the City that causes a fluctuation of water or wastewater.”

To Puyana, that long winded explanation might be LEGAL but he says it’s still not right.

“It was clearly their fault and I just assumed naively that the city would just take care of it.”

We repeatedly asked the city to speak with us on camera, but they would only give us a written statement saying the city is “happy to work with claimants to reach a resolution and mutual understanding.”

Puyana says that’s not the answer any taxpayer should hear.

“I feel like I’ve run out of options of what I can do to solve the matter,”  says Puyana.

And now – after repeated calls from KXAN – the city says it is reconsidering paying Puyana’s claim. They did not have a time frame on how long it would take for the city to make it’s decision on the reimbursement.

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