Thursday, January 27, 2011

A "Private Leak" At 2723 Knox Ave. N., Water Spews Into The Gutter...

Above, that's not ice but fresh running water.
The doughnut shaped "main valve" is visible on the boulevard beneath fresh water spewing out from the valve.
Photos and blog post by John Hoff

The house at 2723 Knox Ave. N. is a pristine example of why North Minneapolis citizens need the network of "revitalizer blogs" which has sprung up over the last couple years: long after the big media have entertained and titillated the rest of the city with a dramatic cautionary tale of a child playing with matches (click here for example news coverage) neighbors on the Jordan Pond are still dealing with this burned out house in their midst and need information updates.

Well, there's a new problem coming from the damaged structure. The water main on the boulevard is...

...wide open and spewing fresh, clean, highly drinkable Minneapolis water into the gutter. And, worse yet, the water company isn't going to lift a finger to stop the leak. Upon calling 311 about this issue, I was informed that...

1. 311 has already been called.

2. This is a "private leak." The water company will not do anything to stop the leak. Instead the owners of the property need to get a contractor to stop the leak. This process may take, oh, a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the water we all pay for is spewing into the gutter.

Attempts to contact city officials have not worked. Their hands appear tied by the policy. If city water can just spew into the street and the city can't do anything about it, then something is wrong, particularly when the leak appears to be at the main valve which is located ON THE BOULEVARD, not private property. (Owners are responsible for maintaining their boulevards but do not, in the strictest sense, own them. Readers, feel free to discuss the boulevard ownership and maintenance issue if you have something to add)

What can be said or added? If this is the policy, then the policy is messed up and the policy needs to change.


Ray said...

Wow, big news. Like maybe WCCO or Fox9 should send out a truck to cover a water leak. Sure glad Johnny Northside is there to cover this big story.
Happens all the time, even in rich neighborhoods.
And in case you didn't know. If it doesn't get fixed by a private contractor, the city can fix it and add it to the owners property tax as a special assessment. That happens all the time too, especially when the owner can't afford to hire someone to fix the pipe.
Question for ya: If your water main broke do you have the 4 grand it would cost to have it fixed? Just one of the hazards/responsibilities of home ownership.

Johnny Northside! said...

I think you're missing the point, Ray. I don't think Fox9 or WCCO should cover this story at all, though if they want to, that's their business. The point is we need "micro media" for these little stories which impact the immediate neighborhood, or for smaller issues of policy which aren't terribly interesting to (most of) the audience watching or reading or listening to the big media.

The city can fix it, huh? That's not what the city is saying to us.

Furthermore, all that water is supposed to just spew into the street while we wait for the fix?

Anonymous said...

Why would the city not fix this and assess the owner? Has the E-Democracy folks been notified?

Anonymous said...

OK, So anybody who knows anything about house construction is aware how lethal water (whether it be from leaky roofs or broken pipes) is to a structure.

So, why isn't turning off the water (and Gas) a regular procedure for vacant homes?

CPED Get on it!!!

Pond-dragon said...

JNS has more than 1 point,
Homeowner just suffers catastrophic house fire (Read expensive loss)
Additional water running into the gutter is charged to said party $300+ water bill, additional expensive loss, because water dept. can't think intelligently.

JNS your point is solid, City Mpls Water Dept. lets not be stupid about these things, the least you could do is shut the water off at the street, you are allowed to do that aren't you! No one is living in the house.

The real news story would be when a water Dept. employee makes the right decision and then gets fired for thinking.

Johnny Northside! said...

Regarding E-Democracy...

Notify them? Um, do they have authority over this issue?

If somebody wants to tell E-Democracy, they can tell E-Democracy. Be my guest.

Unlike some folks, I don't feel the need to write something on my blog and then desperately seek blog traffic by announcing almost every posting to E-Democracy, whether it's relevant or not to the particular E-Democracy forum.

Anonymous said...

What do you have against e-democracy? I think it's a great way to get information out to Minneapolis residents. The manager can be heavy handed but you take the good with the bad.

Pond-dragon said...

Ventured by said property today, The city was there earlier and cleared the snow banks, perhaps they will be in next week to turn the water off.

Anonymous said...

Hey check this out. Is this the same type of valve?

Damn StarTribune link better no go dead. I hate dead links. We should get this up on e-democracy as well.

NoMi Passenger said...

A similar type of story recently appeared in the Strib, but actually includes some interesting twists of failed landlords who abandon their responsibilities and cause further damage. Ugh.

Failure to pay water bill results in icy waterfall
Gusher demonstrates problems with enforcing little-known rule in Minneapolis.

Sometime around Jan. 1, a pipe ruptured in a vacant house in north Minneapolis and the resulting waterfall froze on its way out a first-floor window.

It's a distressing sight to neighbors, not only because the water may have wrecked an otherwise livable house, but because the city could have prevented the deluge by shutting off the water more than a year ago.

As recently as this past fall, the city put a notice on the front door of 3738 Dupont Av. N. warning that the water would be shut off on or after Nov. 1. Service wasn't actually terminated until Jan. 3, after a neighbor called the city about the miniature glacier next door.

"From where I am standing, I do not understand why this happened," said Chris Morris, director of the McKinley Community association. "The city dropped the ball."


NoMi Passenger said...

(cont'd from above)

City officials acknowledge they missed a chance to prevent damage, but they said shutting off the water is more complicated than it sounds. The trouble at 3738 Dupont reveals an often unenforceable city ordinance that makes property owners responsible for maintaining valves used to terminate water service in case of nonpayment. While those "stop boxes" frequently don't work, it can take months before a city-hired contractor makes repairs when errant property owners refuse the responsibility.

Still, the failure at 3738 Dupont is "very, very, very unusual," said Tom Deegan, the city's director of housing inspections. Deegan said the city is typically "very efficient" at preventing such situations. "This is just really strange," he said.

Built in 1907, the two-story home had fallen on hard times. The property went through foreclosure in 2006, and its current owner, Erik Laine, told Whistleblower last week that he has essentially abandoned the property. In 2007, Laine bought four houses in Minneapolis but said his career as a landlord was short-lived when he lost his day job and couldn't keep up with the expenses of his properties.

"It is partly my fault," Laine acknowledged when told about the broken pipe. "I never had any plans to let it freeze." But the city required thousands of dollars worth of repairs before he would be allowed to rent it once again, and that was money he didn't have, Laine said.

In December 2009, no one was paying the water bill, so city workers paid a visit to shut off the water, said Marie Asgian, the city's superintendent of water distribution. The stop box was broken, which prompted the city to send the owner a letter, asking him to fix it, Asgian said. Most property owners are surprised to learn they can be held accountable for that piece of plumbing, she said.

"Usually when we tell people, they have no incentive to get that fixed," Asgian said. "It never happens until our contractor gets to it."

Last June, 3738 Dupont went on a contractor's shutoff list, but jobs are ranked by the size of the unpaid bills, Asgian said. "Sometimes there's quite a lag on these."

Meanwhile, despite the shutoff order and the lack of a rental license, new tenants moved into the house last spring, said neighbor Cynde Hanson. By September, the city learned the house was being rented illegally, so they ordered the tenants out and slapped a bright orange water shutoff notice on the door. Laine said it was the first time he found out that he needed a license, even though Minneapolis has required landlords to get licenses for 20 years.

The tenants were out and the front door posted, but the water service stayed on.

During a brief thaw around New Year's Day, Hanson looked out her window and noticed the north wall of 3738 Dupont seemed to be weeping. When everything froze again and the house was still wet, she called the city.

A Jan. 18 inspection finally brought some good news about the house. A city inspector took a look at the interior and found no evidence the water leak had buckled floors or ruined ceilings, Deegan said. The city will move forward with condemnation, but Deegan said he'd recommend renovation instead of demolition, if the damage is as minor as it appeared during the inspection.

Deegan said he suspects the outside wall is filled with ice. "Come spring, we will follow up and at that time there may be additional damage," he said.

Residents of the well-kept block on the North Side hope the house won't remain in limbo much longer.

"We either need it to be [torn] down, or we need somebody stable in there," Hanson said.

Pond-dragon said...

"We either need it to be [torn] down, or we need somebody stable in there," Hanson said.

Seems was just reading on some other Blog about how all the local folks are jealous of "Landlords" because they are rich. Which as we all know has nothing to do with equity stripping neighborhoods for your own gain or in this case loss by poorly managing your so called investments and leaving them "To Rot" at the neighbors expense. (Sarcasm font coming) But this can't be true, the folks in the article complaining don't even live in Jordan! What's next the Camden Hawkman? Need to root out those evil people up there trying to preserve their "Urban Utopia" The disdain, to complain about bad landlords.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. The rights of enterprising slumlords prevailing over the rights of the community.

Obviously, laws that are unenforceable are no laws at all.

Ordinarily, Home owners insurance (covering water line repair) is required by the mortgage guarantor. However, there are no requirements for insurance on a cheap rental properties and since the owners buy contract for deed or cash out. They see these homes as expendable assets and have no ties with the community. Purchasing adequate insurance is counter productive to the properties short term profitability.

What should matter to civic leaders is that local residents are protected from injury (both financial and emotional). This means that our leaders (Council of Commissioners) must re-evaluate the procedures set in place to insure that our homesteaders are protected, even in times of extraordinary instability such as we are currently seeing.

Maybe license fees for rental properties need to be increased so that the city can take on the added responsibility of water main repair.

Or better yet, comprehensive home insurance or financial bonds should be required as part of the non-homestead purchase requirements so that home maintenance issues can be addressed when landlords can't seem to justify a moral center in their search for quick profits!

Amy Lynn Johnson said...

Maybe the city should be listed as a co-owner on any non-homesteaded property with rights to buy the "partner" out for a dollar at any time. This way if a landlord neglects the property they could lose their property quickly. If the property is ever put back in homestead status the city loses it's share back to the owner.

Pond-dragon said...

To Anon January 31, 2011 12:13 PM
Good thinking!