SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE: Eric Perez said he was paid on Friday, and released the following statement
“We tried for seven weeks to get the contractor to take responsibility for their mistake and made no progress. After KSAT 12 Defenders aired the story we had a resolution in less than 72 hours. Tim Gerber and the Defenders did a great job reporting this story and an excellent job in investigating until the undeniable truth was discovered."
A $1.9 million project to upgrade sidewalks resulted in an $800 dispute between a San Antonio homeowner and the contractor the city hired to do the job.
The man claims workers broke his water line, causing dirt to get into his plumbing and resulting in clogs he had to hire a plumber to fix.
When Eric Perez tried to get the city to pay for the bill, he got nowhere until he called the KSAT Defenders for help.
In early November, Perez said he discovered damage to his rental property on Indiana Street on the city's East Side. A hole had been dug in the front yard and a water pipe was exposed. The hole was dug right next to the area where the contractors were preparing to install the new sidewalks.
Perez said it appeared that someone had repaired the pipe, but when he went inside the home, he said the water pressure was low and some plumbing fixtures weren't working.
"My toilet, my sink, they were unusable. We had to call a plumber out to have it fixed," Perez said. "We weren't informed and it took us a couple days before we actually found out that we had a problem because we were away from the house."
Perez believes the pipe was damaged and repaired around Nov. 2, but he didn't notice the damage until he went to the home to check on things on Nov. 3. It was after hours, so Perez said he had a hard time getting hold of anyone at the city to ask what happened. He said he also contacted the San Antonio Water System, but when someone came to the property, they said it was on his side of the property and it was his responsibility to take care of any plumbing issues.
Perez said no one ever notified him that the line had been damaged and repaired or that any work was scheduled to be done on the line as part of the sidewalk project.
The plumber Perez hired determined the broken line caused dirt to "back-siphon into the home," creating the clogs and low water pressure. He replaced the bathroom faucet and the fill valve on the toilet. The plumber was able to clear out the other sinks and flushed all the lines. When it was all done, Perez was left with an $807 bill.
Perez said he began trying to contact the city the following Monday to find out who was responsible for the damage and to see if the city would cover the cost of his plumbing bill. He was eventually told to file a claim with the city. After an investigation into the situation, the city sent Perez a letter dated Nov. 27, that stated: "After careful consideration of the circumstances surrounding the facts of this accident, we now have sufficient evidence to determine that the City was not negligent in this matter. We have found that a contractor was in the area doing work and may be liable for the damages you sustained."
Included in the letter was the contact information for the contractor, Allbrite Construction.
Perez said he first contacted Allbrite Construction that same day, Nov. 27, and was told the company would not be paying for his bill.
Getting nowhere fast, Perez contacted the Defenders for help.
"The city hired a contractor, and their contractor did some damage to my property. Now the city is saying they're not responsible for it and the contractor is telling me they're not interested in paying for the repairs either," Perez said. "I think the contractor needs to pay for it, but I hope that the city would help me out on that and use their leverage since they did hire them."
When the Defenders first interviewed Paul Berry, with the city's Transportation and Capital Improvements department, he explained why the city and the contractor refused to pay Perez's plumbing bill.
"The problem that we have in saying this was damage we caused is this is a sewer line. It's totally separate from the water," Berry said. "I actually talked to the guy who did the work and I said, 'Did you do any work on the property?' he said, 'I'm not allowed to.' So he said, 'We did our work. I got called out with 311 that there was a problem with the line. I went back and checked. There was no problem with the water line.'"
Berry said the city hired contractors who were not authorized to do any work on private property and would have had no reason to go onto Perez's property.
When asked who dug the hole, Berry said it wasn't the city or the contractor. He said the contractor relocated a water meter in front of Perez's property because it was in the path of the new sidewalk, but denied that any damage was done to the water main going to Perez's home during that process.
"They just had to move it a little bit and that went without incident," Berry said. "We've gone out and looked at the property and looked at the work that was done. It's just two totally separate incidents. There was the work done on the sidewalk where a water meter was moved, which was in the public access area, and then there is a sewage line that is a totally separate system that is damaged several yards away from where the work was being done. That has nothing to do with the work that was being done on the sidewalk."
When asked why the city referred to the damaged line as an "accident" in the letter the city sent to Perez, Berry tried to provide an explanation.
"The best I can tell, the using of the word accident, it might have meant incident but obviously when a pipe breaks it's not something that someone does on purpose. It's something that is done by accident, but in this case, it wasn't done by our city, crew or by our contractor," Berry said.
The Defenders reached out to the Allbrite employee who was listed as a contact in the city's letter to Perez, but that employee said there was "no water main break" and claimed "we're taking care of it," before cutting the conversation short by abruptly hanging up.
The Defenders were able to get into contact with Pat Yates, the president of Allbrite. While Yates declined to be interviewed on camera for the story, he answered a series of question in an email exchange.
Yates acknowledge his workers relocated the water meter but denied causing any damage or making any repairs to anything outside of the water meter.
Yates also said his company made several attempts to contact Eric Perez and claimed he failed to show up to meetings.
Yates wrote: "We have reached out several times to Eric with hope of closing the complaint and have not been successful."
Yates said he also sent Perez the contact information for his company's insurance company to make a claim.
Perez said he's now in contact with the insurance company but denied ever missing any meetings with Allbrite to discuss the issue. He even provided the Defenders and email that he sent to Allbrite, calling them out for missing a meeting that was scheduled after the Defenders got involved in the story.
While Yates maintains his workers didn't cause any damage to the property, a daily construction report from SAWS obtained by the Defenders seems to indicate that's not accurate.
The report generated on Nov. 6 by a SAWS inspector who was sent to check out Perez's property appears to be a follow-up visit after Perez's initial call to SAWS on Nov. 3, the day he discovered the damage. The letter indicates the inspector met onsite at Perez's property with a representative from Allbrite.
The inspector wrote in the report: "There was an occupant at 709 Indiana was stating they did no have service as i went and check there is water service to the house that service was damage last week Thursday 2, 2017 Contractor maid all repairs put them back in service asap the same day." (sic)
The Defenders discovery of that report caused the city to drastically change its response regarding the damaged line.
"We've decided to impress upon the contractor to work this out with the homeowner, and we're going to stay on top of it and ensure they do," Berry said in a second interview. "We just decided that it was a close call and we're going to err on the side of the citizen in this case."
Berry also acknowledged that he was misinformed when he originally referred to the damaged line in Perez's yard as a sewer line that was not at all connected to the work done by the contractor.
Even so, Berry said it was too difficult to determine who actually broke the line and made the repairs to it.
"It was something that was part of the work that he had to do with the meter, and so he doesn't think that there was any damage that would have caused the damage that this citizen is saying. But because we're not sure, we're just making sure the contractor works with the citizen to make this right," Berry said. "The contractor still insists that they didn't cause the damage that is being said, but he wants to make sure that he makes this right and so they're going to work with the citizen to make sure we take care of everything we possibly could have had something to do with and just make it right (for) this citizen."
As of the writing of this story, Perez said he hasn't been contacted by Allbrite or the city to make arrangements to pay his plumbing bill.