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Question DetailsAsked on 12/20/2017

Who is responsible to pay for a gas main break Due to age. Would it be the homeowner or gas company?

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You say a "gas main" - which term is usually applied only to the main area distribution or transmission lines in the street, which serve the entire area and have takeoffs for each customer's or building's individual line. I suspect you are talking your service line / residential distribution line / service drop / service lateral (called different things in different areas).

In almost all cases for purely age-related deterioration or defective materials (like some of the plastic lines from the 60's through 90's), if the damage is on "their side" of the delineation or demarkation point - their responsibility. If on "your side", then you. The delineation or demarkation point is the physical point at which their responsibility for the system ends, and yours begins.

With normal commercial supplied gas via gas transmission mains and individual supply lines to the houses, can go either way. Some places (more East of the Mississippi and especially Northeast from my experience) sometimes there is a gas shutoff valve at the tap to the main line or closeby - sometimes in the street or sidewalk right over the main at the point your service line comes off the main, sometimes off to the side a bit on a "lateral" line which goes to a shutoff valve at the edge of the sidewalk or street right-of-way, which is the demarkation point - so in that case the distribution line to the meter and house is your line and your responsibility to repair, even though the meter itself pretty much always belongs to the utility.

More commonly, in my experience, and especially the norm as I have seen it in the West except in Louisiana and Texas (which are the odd ones out for many things), is the distribution line from the street to the house belongs to and is the responsibility of the utility, up to and including the meter - commonly through the meter to a universal coupling right after it being the actual demarkation point, so homeowner's and their plumbers don't mess with and damage the meters or cause a supply line break. If you have a seismic shutoff on the meter, which almost always is on the output line from the meter right after that universal coupling, sometimes that is owned by the utility, but more commonly installed and owned by the homeowner.

Sometimes a service distribution line runs along a property line or even across one property to another to serve several houses with one line. Generally - though not universally - if it serves more than one house at least the common service portion is their responsibility. But sometimes several homeowners joined together to have the utility install a service line to their several houses, and thereby became joint owners of that line if the utility has a at-the-street demarkation line policy. Sometimes special cases apply for condo and apaartment building developments and for commercial properties - which may have a single point of service at the property line or building face, other times the utility property and responsibility extends to each building. Inside the building is, as far as I have evcer seen, the building owner's problem even though the utility will respond to reports of possible gas leaks inside and shut off the gas if they find one - but that is as a public safety courtesy and to avoid public relations nightmares, not because the interior is their "responsibility".

You would have to get hold of the utility tariff document or state utility regulatory commission document which lists responsibility demarkation for that utility. Commonly also in the FAQ's on the utility website, though that is not always exactly in conformance with the tarriff documents which actually control their operation. Just because they say "their policy" or "their rules" say one thing does not make it so - it has to be done per the actual tarriff or state regulation or law which regulates the delineation of their areas of responsibilities. I have run into more than a couple of utilities that said their responsibility is less than it really is - like saying a meter they own is the customer's cost to replace if it fails (without physical damage by customer or his agent/contractor to it) even when that is not the case. The more hard up for money they are the more persnickety they get (bet that's a word you have not seen in awhile) - so utilities in large cities, especially city-owned ones, tend to be a lot nastier about repairing things at their cost.

As for "age" deterioration of the line - even if "their" line, say the service line to your house across your yard if that is owned by them, if they can show it was due to physical damage (say corroded through because it was dented or scratched or the protective covering was damaged by previous excavation or such) then they can still charge you the repair charge, even if the actual damage occurred during initial house construction or by a previous homeowner or previous contractor. Course, if you are not there to see and photo the actual damage as it is uncovered (which they typically would not allow if actively leaking), then is hard to counter their claiming it was property owner's damage rather than a line damaged in installation or a backfill rock nick or such.

Course, if they refuse to let you photo and inspect it before it is handled/damaged by removal (though they should agree to cut out the damaged part to preserve the damaged point) then you have the opportunity to claim they concealed the actual cause/ Burial depth can also be a cause to put the blame on them if the line is their responsibility - in many cases the lines are installed FAR shallower than legal depth (commonly 24-36 inches by law and 60" in a few places, but as shallow as 12-18" for gas service lines and propane connecting lines in some areas.). Of course, they can always come back and claim the line cover was removed by landscaping after installation - though that would be refutable if test digging found it was real shallow (like my house's original 2-8 inches) along its length.

With a leased gas or oil tank (like propane or LNG service) the tank belongs to the gas supply company but the line from the tank to the house is usually your responsibility, though I have seen tank lease/gas supply agreements which made it all their responsibility to service and repair. Of course, if you actually own the tank and just pay to have it filled, it is all your responsibility.

Bottom line - if the segment leaking is "theirs" then the repair is their responsibility unless proven to be because of physical damage reasonably tied back to one of the homeowners (current or prior) or his contractor, if on "your" part of the line then totally your responsibility, though their tarriffs and regulations may dictate that any part "before" the meter, especially if not on "your side" of an individual building service shutoff valve, that they have to make the repair, and then charge you their tarriff rates for that. (Commonly $250-500 for a minor break on point in a shallow plastic supply line, $500-1000 if deeply buried or hard to access or in metal line).

Here are links to a few previous questions about gasline damage responsibility - particularly with regard to contractors hitting lines.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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