North York Mirror
A heart-felt apology from Toronto's top bureaucrat Joe Pennachetti was cold comfort to North York homeowner Meinera Nauth.
So cold that Nauth, whose constantly flooded basement and the city's response to it was the subject of a scathing Toronto Ombudsman's report this month, didn't accept it.
"He sent me a letter last week when the report came out," said Nauth. "And he called the next day but I told him I'm refusing the letter of apology and his phone call until he comes into the house and sees the condition I'm living in. Then he can say 'I'm sorry.'"
The report, titled No Time To Waste, referred to Nauth as "Mrs. Q.", and detailed her travails attempting to live in - and maintain - her Wilson Heights Boulevard house, which she purchased in 2002.
From the time she moved into the new house, Nauth said she experienced frequent sewer backups into her basement, flooding it with raw sewage after rainstorms.
Initially the city said it was her problem. However, in 2005, following a June storm when sewage came up through her kitchen sink, Toronto Water finally conducted dye tests and found that the problem was the fault of the city contractor. There was a cross connection between her sewer and a storm sewer - meaning that whenever it rained heavily, stormwater would back up sanitary sewage.
After numerous flooding incidents - which caused permanent damage and a persistent mould problem in her home - the city finally determined that the problem was that water was being pumped from a nearby TTC yard.
In 2007, the city installed a holding tank as a temporary solution. But for two years, the city was unable to find a permanent solution, and sewer backups persisted, and in 2008, a portion of her front walk collapsed under a sinkhole.
Matters stretched on and were exacerbated. A sump pump she had installed was plugged up, causing further problems, and runoff from that caused damage to her weeping tiles.
Finally, in March of 2009, after having had to leave her house and live in rental accommodations for a time, Nauth filed a lawsuit against the city and the contractor. At that point, she said city staff would not speak with her.
She told the ombudsman's office that the numerous sewer backups have made her feel like she is going to have a "nervous breakdown."
In an interview, Nauth said the ordeal has been financially crippling as well as emotionally wrenching.
"I have no money - what little money I had, I'm paying out to clean up - nearly $8,000 every time a flood happens," she said.
"With everything I think I've personally spent and what I will have to spend, I'm looking at $600,000. The repair to take out the weeping tile around the house is $175,000. To replace the basement would cost about $63,000. For the upstairs, is another $63,000. I moved out of the house from 2008 to 2009 and when I ran out of money I came back. All that is money I spent - and my crying."
She said that her basement has flooded about 18 times, and it has led to a persistent mould problem. She had an easy case when she went to appeal her home's assessed value for the purposes of taxes. When Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) looked at her home, they dropped the assessment of the 4,000 square foot house from $1.3 million to $500,000 - the value of the land it sits on.
Her front walk is ripped up, and she is frequently interrupted during meals she takes, outside, by the truck that comes to empty the holding tank weekly.
"When it empties the tank, the whole house begins to shake," she said. "When we had that earthquake, I thought they were emptying the septic tank. I didn't know it was an earthquake."
On Thursday afternoon, mayoralty candidate George Smitherman spoke out in Nauth's defence.
"This report details a shocking abuse of a taxpayer of the City of Toronto by numerous departments of the city which ignored the reality, which was the city bore a responsibility for sewage repeatedly backing up into this individual's basement," he said.
"We have a situation today in the City of Toronto where the tail is wagging the dog."
Smitherman said if elected mayor, he would support finding a way to assist Nauth and settle the lawsuit reasonably.
"I think it would behoove the city in the circumstances with this damning ombudsman report to find a settlement that's reasonable," he said. "This individual by all accounts has experienced just enough about the city bureaucracy and ought to hear some action that is focused more on contrition. I would be very much in her camp in terms of getting not only a reasonable restitution but a timely one as well."