Paradise Valley couple ‘knee-deep’ in legal fees suing for sewage damage

Above are Mirja, at left, and Tim Riester who are seeking financial remedies from both the municipalities of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley due to claims of negligence regarding sewer system maintenance. (Submitted photo)

Town of Paradise Valley residents Tim and Mirja Riester have rejected offers from both municipalities they are suing over alleged sewage damage to their million-dollar home.

Since the damage occurred two years ago, the couple not only found themselves deep in flooded sewage waters at their home, but now are claiming they are “knee-deep” in legal fees, according to Mr. Riester, principal/CEO of Phoenix-based RIESTER company.

During the May 21 Scottsdale City Council meeting, $50,000 was approved on consent toward resolving pending litigation in the Maricopa County Superior Court case of Riester vs. city of Scottsdale, for the sewage backup in the couple’s home they say caused costly damage.

The Riester family claims the above is raw human sewage leaking into their Paradise Valley home, a result of a lack of proper sewer system management between Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. (Submitted photo)

The case also involves the Town of Paradise Valley for its responsibility since Scottsdale and town have an intergovernmental agreement to provide certain sewer maintenance and collection services to Paradise Valley residents.

“The Riesters did not accept the offer made by the city. The city will continue to explore settlement possibilities as appropriate but we cannot comment further because of ongoing litigation,” said Diana Day, assistant Scottsdale city attorney in an emailed response about the status of the case on Aug. 6.

The incident stems from a July 2017 backup in the main sewer that resulted from a collapsed rain guard for a manhole cover designed to prevent stormwater from entering the sewer through manholes. The back up in the main sewage line clogged the system, causing damage to three rooms of the Riester property, they claim.

The Riesters initially filed a lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale and the Town of Paradise Valley, citing more than $1 million in damages, but Scottsdale denied liability.

However, Mr. Riester described how he and the family has drowned in legal fees from ongoing proceedings after their home succumbed to sewage backup and wastewater that flooded the property, ruining the home and decreasing the property value after the Town of Paradise Valley-owned and operated sewage system malfunctioned.

They detailed their fight with the Town of Paradise Valley’s legal team while incurring legal fees to recover the costs and damage that both municipalities were responsible for, the Riester’s claim.

“The Town of Paradise Valley promotes itself as the wealthiest community in Arizona with a mission ‘to provide high-quality public services’ with values that include ‘professionalism, high-quality customer service, teamwork, respect, transparency and accountability,’ said Mr. Riester in a prepared statement.

“However, their behavior after damaging our property has not lived up to the town’s reputation. For a local resident who did nothing wrong, it is hugely disappointing and frustrating.”

His attorney, Brian Foster of Snell & Willmer Law Firm, detailed the progression from meeting with the town attorney about the problem to attempts to contact the town’s insurance company, with no success.

“The town’s attorney advised us to file a lawsuit to help expedite the matter. That was about 18 months ago,” said Mr. Foster in a prepared statement.

In the aftermath, the couple has raised the foundation of their home to avoid further sewage flooding, which involved delivering 38 commercial truckloads of dirt to raise the property.

Damage to the baseboards of the Riester home, they claim. (Submitted photo)

The cost of quality of life

The couple maintains they are not requesting for the municipalities to pay for the cost of a new home, but they expect to be reimbursed for the decreased value of the home including repair and displacement costs.

Mr. Riester pointed out that it is “impossible to sell a house that was flooded with raw human sewage,” causing them to either sell at a huge loss or replace it to avoid future problems from the town’s sewer system.

“We ultimately chose to stay in the neighborhood we have loved for the past 17 years, but we no longer feel like we are living in a town deserving of the name ‘Paradise.’ We just want a reasonable outcome here. I don’t think that is a lot to ask given the entirety of the situation that occurred,” he said.

— Tim Riester, Town of Paradise Valley resident

As the case continues, Mr. Riester wants it to be known the home was appraised at $1.8 million prior to the sewage flood and $1 million after the sewage flood, representing $800,000 in lost home value.

Amidst thousands of gallons of urine and human feces that covered the Riester’s property, they claim, including the floor drains in three bathrooms, the laundry room, and under the family room, the sewage also soaked the white marble floors and baseboards in the master bathroom and hallway, the travertine tile floors in the kids’ bathrooms, laundry room and hallway, the wood floors in the exercise room, family room and under the piano in the living room, they claim.

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (File photo)

The Riesters also claim intolerable sewage smells never left the home; sanitation chemicals used by the town to clean the home’s exterior also shocked and killed several large trees on the property, they claim.

The Riester’s home owner’s insurance only included $10,000 in coverage for sewage flood damage, Mr. Riester added. Estimates to repair the home exceeded $250,000. However, the couple said even with the damage from the sewage flood repaired, an appraiser concluded that the home’s value diminished by $800,000 as a result of the sewage damage; and the legal requirement to disclose about sewage flooding to prospective home buyers, they claim.

In addition to paying for temporary housing, packing, storage and relocation fees, civil engineering, plumbing, appraisal, architecture and general contractor costs, with no assistance, the Reister’s claim the sewage floods destroyed their retirement savings because they lost a substantial amount of their investments made into the property.

Meanwhile Mr. Riester offers information to other residents facing similar situations including contacting municipalities and insisting on having an inspection of the sewer system near their home. Request for all “rain guards” to be removed or replaced in the manholes, he said.

“Also, as added protection from Town of Paradise Valley sewage and rats entering their home through the town’s sewer system, Paradise Valley homeowners should have a ‘backwater flow valve’ installed between their property sewage line and its connection to the town’s sewer system,” Mr. Riester said futhering his claims against the Town of Paradise Valley.

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