Bill would force New York utilities to pay for damages instead of homeowners

QUEENS, New York (WABC) -- One year after 7 On Your Side covered the story, legislation seeks to hold utilities responsible for leaks that homeowners were once forced to pay for.

A year ago Thursday, 7 On Your Side set out to solve a mystery of what was causing underground water pipes to suddenly spring leaks.

Those leaks caused flooding and cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in repairs in several Queens neighborhoods.

The investigation blames utility companies and now a bill is headed to Albany to force utilities to pay for the damages.

Homeowners applauded Sen. John Liu's bill which aims to hold public utilities responsible for sewage and water pipe repairs when it's been found the utility is causing the damage.

It's been a long fight to prove what Queens residents long suspected and first showed 7 On Your Side one year ago.

It's called electrolysis -- stray electric current corroding copper pipes that should last a lifetime in just months.

7 On Your Side called an expert to explain the problem last July.

Mike Kayne said the dents in the pipes are caused from electricity bouncing off and eating away at the material and deteriorating it.

The DEP's investigation found Verizon's buried lead sheathed communication cables were emitting stray DC current and undermining the copper lines.

Last July, Verizon said it wasn't responsible for the pipe problems -- it only uses fiber lines, not electricity, but the DEP report shows the opposite - that they are emitting stray currents.

"The first message it sends is that 7 On Your Side is totally on our side," Liu said. "They woke up and event sent a letter to homeowners saying OK we will pay as long as you say you'll never sue us again or waive your rights."

"I think it's a really slimy underhanded way for them to get out of their responsibility," said Elaine Young with West Cunningham Park Civic Association.

Verizon said it's reimbursing homeowners to replace pipes. And if they sign and get paid by Verizon but have subsequent problems, they can file another claim for reimbursement.

The utility also said I has repaired actively leaking pipes for homeowners and has taken steps to address stray currents.

But 7 On Your Side was out there Thursday and we numerous copper pipe leaks just blocks away.

As for the bill, all that stands between it becoming law is a signature from Gov. Cuomo.

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