LAYTON, Utah (KUTV) — Jeff and Kathy Bruckman's Layton home is a disaster zone. Their once-fully-finished basement is unlivable as the pair try to figure out how they are going to be able to afford to, basically, rebuild from scratch.
The mess began last October as the couple was getting ready for church. Kathy said:
I could smell something real bad.
What they found was raw sewage flowing up through a floor drain in their utility room — hundreds of gallons of the sludge.
The problem was traced to Layton City's sewer line, which was clogged a couple doors down the road.
Jeff and Kathy say it's not the first time the city’s clogged line has become their problem. Their home, it seems, is low compared to their neighbors' and, as the saying goes, "sewage" flows downhill. A similar clog a few months prior led to a backup and sewage in their home — though on a much smaller scale.
“Last time, there was really no damage," Jeff said.
The couple was not so lucky this time. Layton City cleared the line, revealing what estimators have said is around $10,000 in damage.
Jeff and Kathy filed a claim with Layton City but that claim has been denied. In a letter, the city's risk manager writes, "We do not believe the city was negligent."
Jeff and Kathy don’t believe the denial is fair but “fair is a matter of perspective,” says Layton Assistant City Attorney Steve Garside.
Garside readily admits the clog was in the city's line and that the line had issues that led to the backup. There had been some settling in the 40-year-old pipe that created a bow resulting in some standing water in the line.
Still, he says the city is not responsible to pay to fix the Bruckman's home because the clog happened as a result of people in the neighborhood flushing things they shouldn't have down the drain. He said:
"We found some wipes that had accumulated and caused the backup into the Bruckmans' home. For the city to be liable, they have to demonstrate some negligence on the city's part."
Layton City did offer what it calls "humanitarian assistance," which is some money and labor to get the home back to livable. But the lion’s share of the repairs is going to be Jeff and Kathy's problem.
In the meantime, they're not waiting for another clogged city sewer.
“We spent $800 to put in a back flow valve to keep the city's sewage out of our basement,” Jeff said.
Get Gephardt spoke to other cities and water districts along the Wasatch front which confirmed: if a clog happens thanks to something put down the drain that shouldn't have been, the city doesn't take responsibility.
Many homeowner’s insurance policies don't cover backed up sewers, but many insurance companies will sell extra coverage for such an event.
If you'd like to help Jeff and Kathy with repair costs, they've set up a GoFundMe page.
UPDATE: Thursday, Layton City posted to Facebook what it calls a "response to Gephart's [sic] report." Layton wrote in part:
While cities are only responsible for sewer backups caused by the cities negligence, Layton City goes beyond what is required by providing humanitarian assistance. In this case the City paid $5,685.78 in assistance for the Bruckmans. The City does not use taxpayers’ dollars to insure for instances it cannot control, such as items others place in the sewer system.