Some Detroiters are warning against an optional, low-cost water and sewer line insurance program endorsed by the City of Detroit that they argue is unclear and unresponsive.
Detroit in May announced a partnership with New Jersey-based American Water Resources to offer residents a discounted rate on water and sewer line insurance, for $7.98 monthly, or $95.76 annually.
Information about the program was sent out by mail. Nearly 5,000 Detroiters have enrolled in the program, which provides insurance not typically included in standard homeowner policies, according to Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department.
But some Detroiters who have signed up with AWR or have attempted to inquire about doing so said they have had poor customer service experiences.
Kacrina Johnson, a resident in the Belmont neighborhood, sent in her application for the insurance the same month the program began. Since then, she hasn’t heard anything.
“I’m just going round and round and round with nobody able to find me in the system, but they have cashed my check already,” said Johnson, who showed BridgeDetroit confirmation that her check for $95.76 was cashed on July 6.
Johnson said when she calls the main number provided she’s told that she has to speak with a Detroit-specific specialist and that they’re unable to transfer her and she has to wait for a call back.
“For over 60 days now I’ve been waiting on this specialist to call me back,” Johnson said.
American Water Resources provides protection contracts to residents in 43 states and Washington D.C. In addition to sewer and water line insurance, AWR provides other kinds of insurance like power surge protection.
A May news release announcing the program said it is complementary to DWSD’s Basement Backup Protection Program, which is open to Detroiters in 11 eligible neighborhoods. For AWR’s program, there are “service specialists available 24/7/365,” it reads.
BridgeDetroit called the customer service number on the American Water Resources Detroit page and was eventually connected with a Detroit representative, Antoinè, who declined to provide her full name, citing company rules.
“We have an accreditation with the Better Business Bureau,” she noted. “We just started a partnership with Detroit – doesn’t mean that we are a new company. We’ve been in business for 20-plus years.”
In response to frustrations from Detroiters, AWR’s Detroit customer service contact, Antoinè, added: “I would just advise people to give us a call.”
Antoinè gave BridgeDetroit an updated number that Detroiters can use to speak with someone about their application: (866) 430-0819. A different number, (800) 313-0726, has been provided in confirmation emails sent to policy purchasers.
“Everybody has a 30-day waiting period no matter what city and state you live in,” Antoinè told BridgeDetroit.
The amount of time in between mailing in a check and receiving an acceptance letter is “really hard to say because it depends on the mailing system,” she said. “I usually tell people within the next week and a half, maybe two or three weeks.”
The City of Detroit partnered with AWR to offer the insurance at a discounted rate, but the company noted it varies by state and was unable to confirm a specific discount amount here.
Bryan Peckinpaugh, a spokesman for DWSD told BridgeDetroit that the water department is educating residents on the service by presenting to community groups and block clubs that request information.
“We are endorsing the American Water Resources program because there is a need to help homeowners with the burden of repairing/replacing their water and sewer lines,” he said. “We’ve heard primarily positive experiences from homeowners who have enrolled in the AWR warranty program.”
Peckinpaugh added that DWSD has “only heard of a handful of enrolled homeowners who had their claims denied and that was because of known pre-existing conditions.”
The insurance covers repairs to private water service lines for leaks and breaks and repairs to private sewer lines due to clogs and blockages. Other repairs may include damage to pipes from normal wear and tear, tree roots, or corrosion.
In a July 10 post on the neighborhood app Nextdoor, Tee Webb, a resident in East English Village, shared an experience similar to Johnson’s.
“I have called multiple times only to be told they’ll call me back. Apparently there are dedicated claims specialists for the City of Detroit that only assist Detroit residents. This service is POOR,” Webb’s post reads. According to the post, although Webb’s claim for repairs was accepted, Webb ended up having to cover the cost of paying the contractor for the fixes due to a lack of response from American Water Resources.
“I requested to have my service canceled, but guess what…I have to wait for a Detroit account representative to call me back,” Webb wrote in the post. “Beware fellow Detroiters of this service.”
Other residents in the East English Village and Jefferson Chalmers neighborhoods decided not to purchase the service after reading negative reviews on the Business Better Bureau website.
Krystal Frails in Cornerstone Village wrote on July 11 in the Nextdoor post, “I could never reach a Representative to ask pertinent questions regarding coverage and exceptions, that was a red flag for me.”
Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, an online insurance data source, said coverage is typically $40 per year. Depending on what it covers, it can run up to $160 annually.
“It [sewer and water line insurance] is relatively inexpensive,” Worters said. “You need to see what the exclusions are and compare that to what’s offered by others, including your insurance so that you make sure you get the best protection for the price that you’re paying.”
The city has a three-year endorsement agreement with American Water Resources, and plans to review the data and customer feedback after 6 months, 12 months, and on into the future.