Two years ago I wrote about a Worcester resident who had for 15 years been paying sewer charges despite his house not being hooked up to the city sewer system.
The resident, Donovan Bloomfield, who lives at 32 Zenith St., said he knew something was amiss almost as soon as he bought the house in 1999. Foul smells would overrun his backyard, leading him to think the property was being served by an aging septic system.
City officials, however, thumbed their noses at such a suggestion and produced city records to support their contention that the property was hooked up to the sewer system, a position they stuck to even after a local contractor hired by Mr. Bloomfield unearthed an old and failing cesspool on the property.
The contractor, Nick Mitchell, said he notified the Department of Public Works that Mr. Bloomfield’s home was not hooked up to the sewer system. But the city took no action until 2½ years later, when Mr. Bloomfield in 2016 stopped paying his sewer bill. A city worker went to the home, tested the system and acknowledged that it was not connected.
From there, one would think the issue would be a simple fix.
The city had extracted sewer fees from the property owners, starting perhaps as far back as 1947, the year the city installed a sewer line on Zenith Street, and it had used the weight of its public records to prop up the real estate value of the property by suggesting it was hooked up to the sewer system.
How heavy a lift could it be for a city with a $650 million budget to make whole a resident who was the victim of what clearly could be termed a city-complicit fraud?
Apparently it was too heavy a burden for the city to do the right thing. It appears it was easier to try and bury Mr. Bloomfield under the weight of its Law Department, which sent Mr. Bloomfield a legal opinion that essentially said the city feels his financial pain but, constrained by law and principle, it has no alternative but to dump on him.
And as a token of its generosity, the city cut him a check for $824.61, representing, according to the Law Department, six years of refunded sewer payments - the maximum reimbursement allowed by law, according to the city.
“We realize that this payment does not repair your failing septic system or enable you to complete a connection to the city sewer,” City Solicitor David Moore wrote.
“We also realize that, because of the change in grade between your residence and the city sewer, the normal gravity-based sewer system may not work properly and you may need a pump to deliver sewage from the basement of your house to the city sewer lines.”
In response to Mr. Bloomfield’s suggestion that the city at the very least pay the sewer hookup cost, Mr. Moore reminded him of the city’s legal obligation to construct and maintain sewer lines on the streets, and property owners’ obligation to bear the cost of lines from the streets to their property.
“We cannot make an exception in your case because it would involve spending public funds for a private benefit,” Mr. Moore wrote.
“You are free to file a claim against the city but I am hard-pressed to imagine what damage the city has caused you (beyond the unwarranted sewer charges) ..."
Well, Mr. Bloomfield doesn’t have to imagine any damages. He is living with the financial burden.
“Well, my property value has gone down,” he told me.
“I can’t refinance my home, and I can’t sell it, without at a big loss, because it is not hooked up to the sewer system. Two years ago, I sat down with the mayor and he apologized and told me that they were going to make this right, and now they are turning their backs.”
Mr. Bloomfield has decided to foot the sewer repair ($9,500) and hookup ($4,950), but he has also retained an attorney, Howard J. Potash, to demand the city reimburse those expenditures.
Mr. Potash is threatening a lawsuit unless the city agrees to reimburse the $9,500 sewer repair cost, waive the hookup cost and pay Mr. Bloomfield’s attorney fees. He said the city “is obligated to correct the situation based upon negligence and false representation."
He is also going after Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a real estate company in Shrewsbury, which he said misrepresented to Mr. Bloomfield that the home was hooked up to the city sewer system when he bought it.
Using Mr. Moore’s characterization, I am hard-pressed to see how the brokerage firm can be made liable, when it quite possibly relied on city records that said the property was hooked up.
Perhaps it was unwitting, but this is clearly a mistake made by the city, one from which it benefited financially for 69 years. Surely the illicit revenue the city earned on that property over that period should be enough to make Mr. Bloomfield whole.