Bamboozled: Stuck in a messy situation

Accidents happen. Sometimes sewer lines break, leaving a homeowner with an enormous mess, property losses and a big clean-up bill.BB branding

Enter Mary Ellen and Richard Moroses. On May 6, a sewer line backed up, dumping several inches of sewage into the basement of their Clifton home.

“All of our possessions stored in the basement which were touched by the sewage had to be discarded and destroyed,” Mary Ellen Moroses said.

They lost a water heater, a clothes dryer, furniture and more. Some items were professionally cleaned but not salvageable. Others, such as family photos, childhood keepsakes and a collection of Yankees memorabilia can never be replaced.

The total loss: $15,364.

The Moroses say they know the town didn’t mean for this to happen. They simply want the town to make them whole.

92010The couple said they immediately called the Clifton Department of Public Works. Its policy states it can’t send anyone out to the home until a plumber confirmed it was a DPW problem.

The plumber came and determined the source of the problem was the main line. They called DPW again.

After a three-hour wait, DPW came to repair the faulty pipe, and the clean-up began.

As the damage was assessed, Mary Ellen Moroses said she called Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi, who was up for re-election days later, on May 11.

“He told me to submit the claim to my insurance company and that I should then submit the remainder of the claim to the Town of Clifton,” Moroses said. “He promised that whatever was not covered by our homeowner’s policy would be picked up by the Town of Clifton’s insurance company.”

The couple did as the mayor suggested.

They had a no-deductible rider on their insurance policy to cover losses like this, and their insurance company cut them a $5,000 check, the maximum coverage.

Still out more than $10,000, Mary Ellen Moroses called the town again to start the process of filing a claim with the town’s insurance policy. She filled out forms and submitted copies of bills and photos of damage.

And the wait began.

The summer passed.

Moroses said she called the mayor for an update.

“Mayor Anzaldi denied that he promised that the town’s insurance company would cover the balance of our losses,” she said. “It seems that promises made right before election day are not always kept after the election.”

Adding to the couple’s aggravation, she said, was the Clifton tax for sewer charges the homeowners started paying about two years ago. The Moroses pay $277 a year, and their bill states $80 of those charges would be put to sewer maintenance.

“No sewer maintenance was done on this sewer, causing it to back up into our basement. This was confirmed by the DPW workers when they were here,” she said. “They said they would now add this sewer to their list for sewer maintenance.”

Frustrated by the delays and unsure that the town would ever pay, the couple called Bamboozled.


We called Mayor Anzaldi, who said he remembered the case. He said he told the couple to first submit to their homeowners insurance and then make a claim with the town, but he said he never promised the town would cover all their losses.

“When you have a sewer backup it’s a terrible thing,” Anzaldi said. “I would never have told someone the city would pay the difference. There has to be a review from the insurance company.”

He then referred us to the town’s attorney.

“The claim is being investigated and handled in due course,” said Tom Egan, assistant municipal attorney for Clifton. “Most of the time, the most we pay out is the deductible in cases like this.”

The couple doesn’t have a deductible, simply more than $10,000 in losses apparently caused by the town. There doesn’t seem to be any question about the town’s responsibility: Conversations with DPW confirmed that when the main line backs up, it is the town’s responsibility. The town attorney and Mayor Anzaldi confirmed the damage was caused by the backup of the sewer line.

After Bamboozled started asking questions, Mary Ellen Moroses said she got a call from the town’s insurance company with a settlement offer of $1,300 for lost possessions.

“That’s unacceptable,” a furious Mary Ellen Moroses told Bamboozled.

Moroses said the insurance rep accused the couple of selling some of the damaged furniture for which they were seeking reimbursement. This, Moroses said the rep explained, was because Moroses submitted photos of the furniture being loaded onto a truck.

“‘You must have sold them,’ she said to me. I explained they were being put on a truck to be taken to the cleaning company, not because we sold them. It was all covered in sludge and hazardous waste,” Moroses said.

Moroses said the rep then asked how Moroses knew the waste was hazardous.

“It was human waste and sludge,” Moroses said. “Was I supposed to call in a chemist? The cleaning company said it was Class 3 Hazardous Waste.”

She said a few days later, Moroses reported, the insurance company called with another offer: $3,500.

“She tried to tell me how expensive a lawyer would be and that homeowners almost never win in court in cases like this,” Moroses said. “I told her $3,500 is not acceptable.” Negotiations continue. The homeowners simply want to be made whole.

We’ll let you know what happens.