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Madison warns of water line insurance mailings

Madison warns of water line insurance mailings

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Since 2011, Wisconsin municipalities can no longer do work on sewer laterals like these that run from homes to main sewer lines under the street.

A marketing pitch has sparked “dozens” of calls and other inquiries to the Madison Water Utility from homeowners worried that they might be required to get water line insurance or that something’s changed with their sewer lateral insurance.

Neither is true, but the confusion might come as no surprise given that the pitch is from the same company that six years ago partnered with the city to offer another type of insurance.

The letters from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Service Line Warranties of America offer coverage for water service lateral lines, which carry potable water from the water main under the street to homes.

In a statement last week, the Water Utility confirmed that the water lines are the homeowner’s responsibility but said they “are much smaller (1-inch diameter) than sewer lines and are often of copper, while some older sewer lines are made of a brittle clay-like material.”

Erin Johansen, a spokeswoman for Madison-based American Family Insurance, said that generally speaking, water lines “are covered under the standard homeowner’s policy.” That doesn’t apply in all cases, however, Johansen said, such as in cases of ground movement.

The city in November 2013 announced that it was partnering with Service Line Warranties of America and the National League of Cities to offer insurance on sewer laterals, which are also considered private property and the responsibility of the homeowner.

That partnership ended in April when a contract between the parties expired, although coverage for the approximately 12,000 insured under the program has continued. The city last week urged homeowners to look into insurance for their sewer laterals through their homeowner’s insurance or a dedicated provider like Service Line Warranties.

Prior to 2011, the city was able to respond to and fix broken sewer laterals, billing homeowners under a program that capped the cost of a repair at about $4,400.

But a provision of the 2011-13 state budget barred local governments from doing construction work on private property.

Thursday was the second time this year the city has drawn attention to the mailings from Service Line Warranties. The Water Utility also said in May that the company’s mailings were generating calls from the public.

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