‘‘Sludge and hazardous waste,’’ is how Mary Ellen Moroses described it.
Moroses said Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi told them that whatever their homeowners’ insurance didn’t cover, the town’s insurance would — something the mayor disputes. The town’s insurance company offered $1,500, then $3,500, while the homeowners are out more than $10,000.
That case hasn’t come to a conclusion.
In the meantime, several more Clifton families have stepped forward to share similar sewer stories. A main line clog damaged their property. They were told to first file with their homeowners’ and insurance and the town’s insurance policy would pick up the rest. The claims with the town were denied, and the homeowners are out thousands of dollars in unrecovered losses.
Here are their stories.
After a doctor’s appointment, June Sudol returned to her home at 67 Village Road in Clifton on the afternoon of Aug. 18, 2009.
‘‘I heard water gushing and went down to the basement, and the water was pouring like a geyser from the commode,’’ she said. ‘‘I called the Department of Public Works (DPW) and got the police instead, who said DPW would not come until a plumber confirmed it was a problem with the main line.’’
Sudol’s plumber, who Sudol said reported there were plumbing company trucks up and down the block, confirmed it was the main line. They called the DPW again, and Sudol said it was more than two hours before the on-call DPW worker, who lived in East Orange, made it to her home.
In the meantime, the sewage kept coming. Five or six inches deep, Sudol said, before the source was shut down.
The Sudol’s high-end finished basement sported knotty pine walls, a pool table, a bar and more amenities. It also housed laundry facilities, a boiler and hot water heater. All ruined.
In the end, the Sudol’s said they suffered more than $80,000 in losses. Their insurance company paid $10,000 on their claim. The town’s insurance denied the Sudol’s claim, saying it had no prior knowledge of a problem with the line.
Not true, said Ann Smith, who lives around the corner from the Sudols at 34 Urma Ave. Smith said she did not document the exact date of her sewage problem, but said it was sometime in 2004.
‘‘It was coming into our basement from the slop sink,’’ Smith said.
The couple called DPW, which came and opened manhole covers until it found the source, Smith said. She said the source of the problem was the same manhole cover where DPW were working when the Sudols had their sewage mess in 2009 — a mess she said she would have also experienced had her husband not installed a backflow valve after the 2004 incident.
Bamboozled called DPW for confirmation, but the agency did not return our calls.
The Sudols paid out-of-pocket for their repairs.
“That was tens of thousands from our retirement savings,’’ Walter Sudol said.
June Sudol said they even paid $790 in permit fees “to fix the basement the city damaged.”
They decided to take the town to court for their losses. The case is pending.
‘‘If I totaled your Mercedes, my insurance company would replace it,” June Sudol said. “They totaled my basement.’’
Michael David said the same thing happened to him.
On Christmas Eve, 2006, the David’s 203 Clinton St. home was full of people celebrating the holiday.
‘‘My wife sent me downstairs to get something from the basement and all of a sudden I saw it,’’ David said. Wastewater was spewing out of the basement toilet, flowing all across the floor, he said. The loss came to $20,000, David said. David’s insurance paid $10,000 thanks to a rider on his homeowners’ policy. That left another $10,000 of unrecovered losses. David filed a claim with Clifton’s insurance.
He was denied.
‘‘Our client’s personnel state there were no prior problems with the sewer going into your house prior to December 24th and there has been no problem for many years,” said the claim denial from Inservco Insurance Services, Clifton’s carrier.
Interesting. And wrong, according to David’s neighbor, Velma and Francisco Guzman.
The Guzmans — who live two doors down — said they had a sewer incident in late October, 2006, just two months before the David’s.
Velma Guzman said sewage poured into her basement.
‘‘My entire basement was full of this dirty, smelly water,’’ Guzman said. ‘‘DPW came and shut off the line.’’
Despite the Guzman incident, Clifton’s insurance company denied David’s claim, saying there were no past problems.
DPW didn’t return our calls to find out why the Guzman incident wasn’t in the records.
David said he considered suing the city, but he decided against it legal fees would make a court win a financial wash.
‘‘I haven’t fully redone the basement,’’ David said. ‘‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the problem could reoccur.”
WAITING FOR A REPLY
Bamboozled repeatedly tried to contact Clifton DPW head Carl Rossi, and Tom Egan, assistant municipal attorney for Clifton. Neither returned multiple phone calls.
We wanted to ask about DPW records. If Clifton’s insurance company denied homeowner claims stating the town had no prior knowledge of problems, why was Bamboozled able to track down homeowners who reported prior main line issues, resolved with visits from DPW workers, in the immediate area? Those DPW visits are not in the agency’s records, according to the town insurance company claim denials.
We’re also wondering if Clifton is planning a policy change. As of now, residents who experience sewage in their homes must have an independent plumber verify there’s a main line problem before DPW will come.
September 2009 council meeting minutes show a change was discussed, which would allow DPW to report to a complainant without an independent plumber’s verification. If DPW was permitted to come immediately, it seems there would be far fewer inches of sewage in peoples’ homes.
To date, the policy hasn’t changed.
We also wanted to ask what Clifton’s new sewer tax is paying for, and what kind of maintenance schedules residents can expect. Again, DPW and the town’s attorney did not return our phone calls.
We, and Clifton residents, are still waiting.