Homeowners sue Roto-Rooter

Plumbing giant Roto-Rooter has been sued by 36 Twin Cities homeowners who said the company exaggerated the extent of their plumbing problems and then charged them for expensive, unnecessary repairs.

In the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Hennepin County, plaintiffs say they were told they had to pay $3,500 to $17,000 for repairs they say were not needed.

Roto-Rooter responded that it presents customers with a variety of choices, but it is ultimately the homeowner who decides what work will be done.

“Our job when we go out to visit a customer is to give them answers and give them options,” said Roto-Rooter spokesman Paul Abrams.

Last October, Minneapolis police searched the Plymouth office of Roto-Rooter and seized DVDs of drain lines, customer files, an employee personnel file and correspondence between the company and a subcontractor as part of a fraud investigation. The investigation is still an open case, but the county attorney’s office has yet to announce whether there will be charges, said Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Steve McCarty.

Minneapolis’ chief sewer inspector concluded in several of the homeowners’ cases detailed in the suit that the repairs were not needed.

The new lawsuit involves residents of not just Minneapolis but also from St. Paul, Edina, Golden Valley and other metro cities.

Lawyers decided not to proceed with a similar lawsuit that was filed last year in which the plaintiffs had asked for class-action status, said attorney Gordon Rudd, who now represents those same plaintiffs, along with additional homeowners, as part of the new suit.

Rudd said they learned in the last year that Roto-Rooter allegedly had requirements for its technicians that could have led them to be dishonest with customers.

According to the lawsuit, in 2009 Roto-Rooter began to require its Twin Cities drain technicians to refer 30 to 50 percent of all mainline drain-cleaning calls to camera technicians and excavation estimators whether or not the company’s drain-cleaning machine could clear the clog. Roto-Rooter allegedly said it would punish technicians who failed to refer the required percentage and gave bonuses to technicians if the camera and excavation estimators ended up selling an excavation and drain replacement.

Abrams said he’s never heard of that sort of quota system being enforced at Roto-Rooter. Only a small percentage of service calls ever reach the point where excavation is needed, he said. But sometimes excavation may be a viable option if a customer has repeated problems, he added.

“We would be doing a disservice to our customers if we never offered a permanent solution,” Abrams said.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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