Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS
(From l. to r.) State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, state Sen. John Liu and State Assemblyman David Wepin announce the passage of the Utility Responsibility Bill to Fresh Meadows Homeowners.

Elected officials from northeast Queens rallied with civic leaders and community members in Fresh Meadows on Thursday urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would protect homeowners from shouldering the financial burden of repair costs when damage is done to their property by utility companies. 

State Senator John Liu was joined by Assemblymen David Weprin and Edward Braunstein on 188th Street at 81st Avenue to announce the passage of the Utility Responsibility Bill (S.4118c/A.5254c) in the State Legislature. The bill states states that if damage has been done to a homeowner’s lateral sewer and water pipes by a utility company, the company will be held responsible for the repair or replacement costs. 

“This victory is the product of citizen activism and community leadership. We don’t want to penalize utility companies but we do need them to keep their infrastructure in good repair; when they don’t, homeowners invariably suffer heavy penalties,” said Liu. “This legislation helps ensure appropriate incentives and accountability. I am grateful to our local leaders here and our fellow legislators, and am hopeful the Governor will see this bill favorably.”

For years, residents of northeastern Queens have been fighting for a fair and just outcome to the damage done to their homes due to the negligence of utility companies, according to the lawmakers. 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. 

Although the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) identified Verizon as the responsible party for the water leaks on 188th Street in Fresh Meadows, homeowners still had to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket in damages, they said. 

“As a longtime homeowner in northeast Queens, I have seen many residents affected by stray DC currents emanating from Verizon’s old copper landlines, causing their water service lines to corrode and leak, costing these homeowners many thousands of dollars to repair, numerous times over, I strongly urge Governor Cuomo to sign the Utility Responsibility Bill,” said Elaine Young, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic. “This bill absolves homeowners of financial responsibility when their service lines are broken by a utility company. It has already passed the Assembly and Senate and now the Governor needs to do the right thing for the community and sign this bill!”

Elaine Young, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association.

Currently, the law states that homeowners are responsible for sewer and water pipe issues on their property by default. If a homeowner does not make the necessary repairs, their water will be shut off. The only option a homeowner has is to fight in court, where they are up against a corporation with financial resources and legal expertise which far outweighs that of a regular citizen.

Linda Gordon, a board member of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association who lives on 188th Street, said too many seniors who are no longer working and have to rely on social security, as well as, families with children who are struggling to make ends meet, are enduring financial problems due to the exorbitant costs to repair city pipes that they did not break but were forced to pay for, or else have their water turned off. 

Linda Gordon, board member of the West Cunningham Park Civic. (Photo: Carlotta Mohamed)

According to Gordon, Verizon offered to reimburse homeowners 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.

“New York City should be going after Verizon to correct the leaking pipes that are currently destroyed before more damage to the streets like a sinkhole on Winchester Boulevard,” said Gordon. 

The Utility Responsibility Bill, sponsored by Weprin in the Assembly and Liu in the Senate, not only provides homeowners long-awaited relief from this unfair economic obligation, the utility company in question will be held liable to fix the conditions as soon as possible.  

“Homeowners across Queens are responsible for many things but third party damages should not be one of them. We must hold negligent utility companies responsible for the exorbitant damages they have caused across the city,” said Weprin. 

Braunstein, chair of the Assembly Committee on Cities, said he hopes the necessary legislation will be signed into law by Cuomo to protect the economic well-being of homeowners in the city. 

“Middle class homeowners cannot afford the litigation costs associated with holding utility companies responsible for damaging their water lines. “This bill provides those harmed by negligent utility companies a more cost effective way to seek redress for damages incurred through no fault of their own,” said Braunstein. 

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