3 On Your Side

Homeowners 'drained' after plumbing fiasco

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An issue with a slow drain turned into a major plumbing problem that could cost thousands of dollars to fix. (Source: 3TV) An issue with a slow drain turned into a major plumbing problem that could cost thousands of dollars to fix. (Source: 3TV)
Snaking a drain is a common plumbing task, but in this case, something went wrong. (Source: 3TV) Snaking a drain is a common plumbing task, but in this case, something went wrong. (Source: 3TV)
The drain snake got stuck in the pipe. (Source: 3TV) The drain snake got stuck in the pipe. (Source: 3TV)
Desiree and Orin Portnoy Portnoys are frustrated over what was supposed to be a simple plumbing repair inside their Tempe home. (Source: 3TV) Desiree and Orin Portnoy Portnoys are frustrated over what was supposed to be a simple plumbing repair inside their Tempe home. (Source: 3TV)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

A Tempe couple says a plumbing fiasco has left them frustrated.

"Horrible. Torture!" Orin Portnoy said.

"Let me tell you, I've cried more than I have in a while," his wife, Desiree, agreed.

The Portnoys are frustrated over what was supposed to be a simple plumbing repair inside their Tempe home.

"When the dishwasher drains, a little bit of water comes up here about halfway to the sink," Orin explained. "It's just a slow drain; eventually it does drain."

Their home is about 50 years old and according to the Portnoys, they have to have a plumber use what's called plumbing snake about every two years to free up clogged drains. A drain snake is a standard tool in the plumbing industry.

The couple says they looked around and finally found a plumbing company that could respond.

"I called City Wide because they were available right away," Desiree said.

According to the Portnoys, City Wide Plumbing and Service showed up and right away, the plumber started to snake the clogged pipe from the outside of their home. But something went horribly wrong.

Orin agreed to show 3 On Your Side exactly what the problem is.

"Here's the snake that's stuck," he said, giving the snake a firm tug. "It won't come out."

That's right. The snake that was supposed to unclog the drain became stuck in the drain. After 20 minutes of trying to remove it, City Wide's employee gave up, left the snake sticking out of the Portnoys' house and then demanded to be paid for a repair job that never happened.

"I said to him, 'I'm not giving you $175 for your snake that you got stuck in our wall; you have to get the snake out,'" Orin recalled.

That's when, according to Orin, the plumber started packing up.

"He's disconnecting the snake from his machine while he's not looking at me," he said. "I'm like, 'What's going on?' 'Well, the snake's stuck in the line,' and I'm like, 'What are you doing? Are you calling a supervisor to have someone else come and help you?' And he's like, 'No, it's stuck it won't come out.' I'm like, 'Well, what's going to happen now?'"

The plumber brought a supervisor back to the house -- three days later. They still couldn't get the snake out of the Portnoys' home.

City Wide Plumbing & Service Co., which is licensed with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors and has an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau, snipped off the main part of the snake and left the remaining snake line in the drain pipe. As a result, the Portnoys can't use their kitchen or laundry room because they have absolutely no water drainage.

"We have no water in our kitchen," Orin said. "We can't use the kitchen water at all. We can't use the washing machine, dishwasher -- anything like that."

3 On Your Side got involved and the owner of Citywide Plumbing wrote us an email saying the problem is actually due to old plumbing.

"[A]fter several attempts the cable would not come out," he wrote. "The customer had a broken line prior to our arrival on Friday; this is why the drain was plugged."

The Portnoys said they don't know anything about a broken line and that they feel like that's a pretty convenient excuse.

“Everybody makes mistakes. OK, I understand that," Orin said. "But you have to take responsibility for your mistake."

City Wide Plumbing explained its position in separate emails to 3 On Your Side.

9/1/16 Our response

Being a local, family owned business operating in the East Valley since 1982 we have helped many customers over the years.  At City Wide we understand that it is difficult to have universal satisfaction, however we pride ourselves on our high satisfaction rates as demonstrated by many positive online reviews and in-person feedback.  In instances where complete satisfaction is not achieved, we strive to do right by the customer and rectify any outstanding issues.  In jobs such as this, there are two sides to a story.  We would like to offer our perspective. 

City Wide was called out to clear a kitchen sink drain on Friday afternoon at approximately 3:30.   The drain would not clear as the cable got stuck.  Around 5pm, the customer was offered a solution that required additional time and money.  The customer told the plumber to get off the property, which he did. At that time the customer advised the service technician that he had a Gold Membership with another plumbing company and he would have that company fix the line.

On Monday, in an attempt to retrieve the cable, we called the customer to obtain permission to return to the property with the supervisor and original service person.  The customer agreed but after several attempts the cable would not come out. The customer had a broken line prior to our arrival on Friday; this is why the drain was plugged. At this time the customer informed us they have problems with the drain every year and they have a company come out and clear the old, thin cast iron line under the floor. Historically, this is true of old cast iron pipe; it will rot away under the ground over time and needs replacement when this happens. 

After an attempt to remove the cable via traditional means was unsuccessful, the solution was again offered that the customer needed to spend additional money to fix the problem caused by their old, rotting cast iron pipes correctly. The customer continues to refer to their Gold Membership and informed us that they would utilize their relationship with the other company to get it repaired. It is highly unusual for a customer that has a paid Gold Membership with George Brazil Plumbing to first call another company like City Wide Plumbing to clear the drain.  Upon leaving the property Monday, the customer confirmed they would use their Gold Membership to fix their drain.

Our technicians are trained to not enter into heated debates with the client and to remove themselves from any situation that may seem volatile.  Our technicians were able to offer solutions for repairs but it was not what the customer wanted to hear.

This is the only comment we have.

9/8  Mr. Trent

We had to talk this over to see what was up with the job and after discussion with my insurance agent this matter has was sent to our insurance carrier last week. The adjuster has been to the home, the home owner said that have a plan and estimate by another plumbing contractor to fix the drain line or reroute it. My insurance carrier will take care of this problem and have said as much to the customer.

This problem has been turned over to our insurance carrier Mid-West Family. 

Thank You

Larry Quinn

The insurance company has said it will pay for the necessary repairs. The Portnoys said the cost could run into the thousands depending on whether they need a new pipe.

[Update: $3,500 plumbing problem finally fixed]

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

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Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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