"Good neighbor" and common sewer lines

I share a common sewer line with two neighbors. The neighbor on the left was having sewer problems. I found out because he hired a contractor who came over and told me Left Neighbor had hired him, he thought the problem was the common sewer line and it would cost $600 for him to scope it out…“and that is just the beginning”…and as a “good neighbor” I should chip in. It bugged me, I call my plumber and three other guys, go the the Sanitation Dept, etc etc etc. LN’s contractor gives him a bid of $11,000. I get a bid of $6,000 and LN’s guy expresses amazement and drops his bid to $5,900 and emails me to say he does not understand why I would need other bids, he, himself, is reliable and I should trust him.
I did not trust the guy, and I told my neighbors I was more than willing to help pay for the work, but only if we hired someone I could trust. They told me they trusted him and were going to hire him. I pointed out that $5,900 split two ways was cheaper per person than $11,000 split three ways (which is what they would have been paying if I had trusted their guy)

Now they are taking me to small claims court to pay my “share”. Anyone with any experience or helpful advice?

Where to start…

I assume you mean this is a commonly shared collection line that either ties into a municipal sewer or private onsite septic.

To “scope out” a collection line should never cost anywhere near that amount.

I also assume that the work has been completed? This seems strange, if all parties had not yet agreed on the work or cost.

So, can you describe the sewer line sharing better? Is it within an easement and you just tie into it? Is one of the lots designated the operator or trustee?

Has the work been completed?

Was it done satisfactorily?

Trustworthy or not, if he dropped his price to what the trustworthy guy would have done the work for, would you still have an objection? IOW, whats the nature of your objection…that this guy was forced on you, or that you suspect/know the work wasn’t done properly?

If the work is complete, would the neighbors object to you having a 3rd party sewer contractor scope the sewer with their camera to make sure the work is done correctly?

If the work is done correctly, and it can be verified, do you object to paying your share?

It seems to me that if the work was done for the $6000 (as opposed to the outrageous $11,000 initially) and it can be verified, your objection might look like an ego thing on your part. (or a manufactured crisis so as not to pay your fair share)

Is the first price, the $600 one, a misprint, or is “scoping” simply an exploratory operation?

Maybe you say to them,

“The $6K was reasonable, but I am concerned about this guy, especially since he started at $11K. How about we spend another nominal $300 to make sure that the sewer is good, and the work is correct? I just want to be comfortable that all of us aren’t being taken. Then you’ll get my check for 1/3 of the $6300. How 'bout it?”

A few years ago Roto-Rooter told me that a camera scope was $135 per hour, with a 2 hour minimum. I’m sure its higher now, but I would imagine you could scope a sewer with a camera for <$500.

I was confused (I should be used to it by now) because the OP went from $600 directly to $11,000 without saying whether the scoping (which he said bugged him and prompted his actions) had been done.

As a real estate agent, I have to approach this from a different angle. Is there an easement involved? If you haven’t bought the property recently, you might be surprised what’s filed at the county courthouse, and it might spell out how this kind of situation is handled.

If not, it looks like you might be headed for some legal wrangling. Which is why I advise home buyers to arrange agreements for shared facilities in advance of purchase (in my neighborhood it’s common for wells, septics and driveways to be shared and sometimes the owners don’t even know about it until they have problems).

General comments:

1 - Your neighbor didn’t have the courtesy to come over and talk to you himself. The contractor did the talking.

2 - The contractor you don’t trust says he thinks the problem is in the shared line, but doesn’t bother to prove it (at least that’s what it sounds like). If I was having no drainage problems myself, I’d assume the problem wasn’t in the shared line.

3 - The contractor is surprised that you got a bid and acts offended. Not a sign that he should be trusted.

4 - The neighbor still promotes using the guy after you prove that his price is inflated at least 200%. This makes me wonder if they’re friends or relatives and if the purpose of the job was to get the 2/3 of the inflated fee, with neighbor not having to pay his 1/3.

  1. They both went ahead without a written agreement from you and are now trying to pressure you into paying. Not the brightest move.

Sorry that you’re mixed up with this mess. I have no experience with small claims court but if you have documentation of the research you did and they have nothing written which would compell you to pay, especially for an unproven problem, I’d be tempted to let it go to small claims. Or at least to say, “go ahead, don’t bother to hire a server, just hand me the court papers and I’ll be there - and you’ll lose.”

It could be that small claims court is enough of a hassle that you’d rather pay up, or maybe negotiate down. It could also be that the claim against you would be upheld, but it does sound like they didn’t make a good faith effort to fix the problem with your assent.


[li]$600 seems somewhat high to conduct a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) inspection of a sewer lateral, but not outrageously high. The market rate in my area is about half that amount.[/li][li]I would also look at the easement language. This sewer lateral is either on someone’s private property (presumably yours or one of your neighbors) or it lies within the public right-of-way. If the problem is in the public portion, your sewer utility should fix the problem at their expense. If it is on private property, then the easement language should spell out what rights each of the neighbors have to the use of the lateral, and (hopefully) what obligations each neighbor has with respect to maintenance and repair.[/li][li]What is the proposed fix? Based on the amounts being mentioned, it sounds like the contractor is proposing to excavate and replace pipe. Is this actually necessary? Can the pipe simply be snaked? If so, then $5,900 is an outrageous amount for simply clearing a blockage.[/li][/ul]

Was your sewer working OK? Was the third neighbor’s sewer working OK? If so, I hardly see it being the common line as the problem. Let the one with a problem check his line up to where they meet.

This tells me he was gouging. If he can afford to take the job for 5900, that 11000 bid was way over the top.

Trust him to what, gouge you? Pretty asinine comment for him to make, seeing as getting other bids potentially saved five grand.

I agree with those who find it hard to believe that a common line problem would only affect one of the three houses using said line. This whole situation, as described, stinks on several levels. I’d be inclined to fight it with vigor.

Yeah, he “lowered his bid” to $5,900. Then after he did the work, they emailed me and said it ended up costing $8,000. Which is what I said would happen, in writing, when I told them I did not trust the guy. It seems really strange that they could make all the decisions without my input, that they could “vote” to go with this guy because they like him and he “is willing to work with them to keep costs down” (by underbidding someone else?), ignore my concerns that he would go over his bid, and then get outraged because I did not accept their request to “do the right thing”. I thought I did the right thing by pointing out their guy was gouging them and offering to pay 1/3 of the fee for some one we all agreed on. Well, I guess I’ll see them in court!

I’d say that if your sewer system was working fine, then to hell with your neighbor- he’s the one with the sewer problems, and he should pay, regardless of whether it’s a common line or not.

Why should you have to pay, if he’s the one having the issue?

Go to small claims, you have behaved reasonably, I think you’ll do okay. Besides the court doesn’t make the loser pay, they just decide the case, it’s up to the winner to collect the award, which can cost money to do, and take time.

Tuareen, did your neighbors get multiple quotes? Do they have any evidence that there actually was a problem in the common line, apart from the guy who had a vested interest in finding a problem? Did the plumbers you called confirm that there was a problem? What kind of problem was the one neighbor having? Did you experience any problems with your sewer? What about the third neighbor?

Your neighbors would have to show that there actually was a problem, that it was in the common part of the sewer (either in whole or in part, in which case only the portion in the common part of the sewer would be split), that they did due diligence in selecting a good plumber with a good price.

Also, can you confirm that the plumber they hired was licensed?

Good luck on this.

Good neighbor? Do the right thing?

Those two phrases do not indicate legal obligation to me.

I do not trust people who use moral terminology in business discussions.

From what I can tell, you didn’t hire this contractor, and you didn’t agree to pay part of his fee. You weren’t having any problems. So why is it that YOU should get stuck with paying part of this, again?

I’d tell the neighbors and the contractor that you didn’t have any problems, and you didn’t have any part of deciding which contractor to use, so you’re not paying a penny. I would ask them why you should pay for any portion of this work, when you apparently aren’t getting any benefits from it. I would think, but would not say, that this is a scheme designed to get you to pay most or all of the work.