Northeast Queens lawmakers want utility companies to ‘lift the costly yoke’ off homeowners for property damage

Photos courtesy of Senator Liu’s office

Several lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would protect northeast Queens homeowners from utility company negligence.

On May 23, state Senator John Liu and Assemblyman David Weprin rallied with civic leaders and community members demanding that the state Legislature passes the Utility Responsibility Bill.

Under the bill, utility companies, not homeowners, would shoulder the bill for damages the company has caused. If a utility company has caused damage to a homeowner’s lateral sewer and water pipes, the company will be responsible for the repair and replacement costs.

“It’s simply unfair for homeowners to shoulder the heavy financial burden of water and sewer repairs, sometimes repeatedly, because utility companies fail to properly maintain their infrastructure,” Liu said. “This legislation will lift the costly yoke off homeowners, and as importantly, incentivize utility companies to maintain proper repair in the first place.”

According to the lawmakers, northeast Queens residents have been fighting for a fair outcome to the damages due to utility company negligence. Since 2017, dozens of water service lines have failed in areas like Fresh Meadows and Jamaica Estates, resulting in homeowners having to pay for repairs out of pocket.

The current law says that homeowners must pay for sewer and pipe issues on their property by default. Homeowners who do not take care of the repairs will have their water shut off. A homeowner has the option of fighting these issues in court, but they are often unsuccessful against a corporation’s vast financial resources and legal team.

“Across Queens, negligent utility companies have caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages to residential water services lines. No homeowner should be liable for third party damage, which is why I introduced the Utility Responsibility Bill in the Assembly to hold these companies accountable for their actions,” said Weprin, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. “I applaud Senator John C. Liu for introducing this bill in the Senate on behalf of Queens homeowners and I urge the full Assembly and Senate to take up this bill before the end of session.”

In January, QNS reported on the pernicious water leaks on 188th Street in Fresh Meadows. Although the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) identified Verizon as the responsible party, homeowners in the area were made to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages.

“Fresh Meadows residents affected by the 188th Street water leaks have suffered damages, financial loss and unacceptable conditions for years. They deserve a response,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. “I strongly support the passage of the Utility Responsibility Bill to compel the overdue and necessary action needed to finally resolve this nightmare scenario facing local homeowners.”

According to members of the local West Cunningham Park Civic Association, the law would protect homeowners from companies who may not act in good faith in these situations. Linda Gordon, a civic association board member said that Verizon made a “horrible offer” to New Yorkers affected by the water leaks.

“They are offering reimbursement of their repair expenses in exchange for not fixing the underlying problem:  finding and removing the wires that are causing stray current that is destroying the underground pipes all over New York. To add insult to injury, they are requiring homeowners to sign away their rights to future claims. This offer not only ties the hands of homeowners, it puts future New York homeowners at risk since Verizon is not planning on correcting the problem they caused. We need a law that prioritizes the homeowner,” Gordon said.

“The West Cunningham Park Association looks forward to the passage of this bill so that all affected homeowners will be made financially whole again,” added Elaine Young, president of West Cunningham Civic. “We want to see Verizon fix this problem permanently so that it doesn’t happen again. DEP must also have the responsibility of safeguarding their infrastructure.”

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