Residents urged to get insurance after Anoka sewer backup

Anoka residents are being urged to make sure their homeowners insurance covers damage caused by water and sewer back ups after a March incident that affected a number of properties.

Back in March a clog in the line caused sewer to back up into seven homes in the Oakwood Drive neighborhood.

When city crews arrived, they found the clog was the result of rags and hypodermic needles being flushed down a toilet, said Public Services Director Greg Lee.

Monday a group of frustrated neighbors from the 400 block of Oakwood Drive asked the Anoka City Council why the city would not be paying for the clean-up costs.

Oakwood Drive resident Jodi Engen said on top of the clean-up costs, the sewer back up caused $22,000 damage to her basement.

Neither her insurance nor the city’s will cover those costs. This is the case for many of the residents who had sewer back up in their basements.

“None of us have the money for this,” Engen said.

The group was particularly upset because several said were they told by a city employee that the city of Anoka would be paying for the clean-up costs.

But last month insurance broker Mark Lenz told the council in a work session that an investigation showed it was not the city’s negligence that caused the back up, and the city was not liable.

So the city’s own insurance would not cover the clean up or repair costs for the residents affected by the back up.

“We know that someone is liable, we just can’t prove who it is,” Mayor Phil Rice told those residents Monday night.

David Hawkins said if he had known the city wouldn’t be paying for it, he would not have hired ServiceMaster to do the job.

“We would have cleaned it up ourselves,” Hawkins said.

The residents report clean-up costs ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.

City Manager Tim Cruikshank said that even if a city employee misspoke about the responsibility for the clean up, the city would still not be liable to cover the costs.

This type of backup is extremely rare in the city, according to Lee.

“It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it is catastrophic, especially if you are on the receiving end,” said Councilmember Jeff Weaver during last month’s work session.

Weaver said he checked his homeowners insurance, and a $49 rider on his policy covers this type of damage.

The council is encouraging all residents to do the same. The installation of a back flow preventer could also eliminate the ability for sewer to back up into the basement of a home.

Frank Padula owns the home at 430 Oakwood Drive, which he has rented to the same tenant for the last 33 years.

Padula said it was an expensive lesson to learn and the clean up is costing $3,000.

“Someone else was very careless and caused a problem for some of their neighbors,” said Rice.

Padula was the only property owner to attend the work session April 22.

The other residents Monday said they were not aware that meeting had taken place.

Kevin Grabinske, who also lives on Oakwood Drive, called on the city to do a better job of notifying the neighborhood about the problems.

He said people should be reminded about what shouldn’t be put down the sewer.

The city is planning to include that information, along with suggestions about insurance coverage, in both its utility bills and upcoming city newsletter, Lee said.

After hearing concerns Monday, the council agreed to have another work session meeting to discuss the problems with people who live in the neighborhood.

During the April meeting staff also told the council this neighborhood would be added to the city’s “increased inspection area program” for parts of the city where sewer problems happen more frequently.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]

  • Pat

    I watched as the City of Anoka dumped on these residents again at the Monday Council Meeting. If the backflow preventers would protect the residents from the City’s sewage, then the City should be installing them at every home as part of the Street Renewal Program.
    In addition, the needles should have been reported to the Police. Duh.
    Who stands up for the residents?

  • Brian

    This is smaller leaner government. Almost every city has dropped this coverage and the costs are now up to the citizen.

  • Mark Kulda

    This is sadly an important lesson for homeowners about the need for a special insurance rider on homeowner’s policies. The standard homeowner’s insurance policy does NOT cover this, but if you buy something called the “Backup of Sewer and Drain Endorsement” you DO have coverage for both backup of sewage through your drains or standpipe and if you get water in your basement from a failed sump-pump. The article quotes a policyholder that said his endorsement cost $49 per year. Mine only cost $35, but either way it is very wise to have such an endorsement if you have a basement or a sump pump.
    There is one very important distinction, though, that needs to be explained here.
    There is no homeowners insurance coverage at all if you have a problem with your buried sewer line that is on your property. It is not the city’s responsibility and your standard insurance (even with the backup of sewer and drain endorsement) doesn’t pay that.