7 On Your Side Investigates: Something stinks in Queens

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020
7 On Your Side Investigates: Something stinks in Queens
Dan Krauth has more on the residents still waiting to get paid back after waste flooded nearly 100 homes in Queens.

JAMAICA, Queens (WABC) -- Months later, dozens of Queens residents are still waiting to get paid back by the city for property damage after waste flooded nearly 100 homes in South Jamaica and South Ozone Park as the result of a blocked sewer pipe.

7 On Your Side Investigates found they could be waiting for awhile.

To this day, the sewage smells. It ruined their basements, and destroyed their belongings -- and it wasn't their fault. But the victims feel like they're left cleaning up the mess.

"I just want to go home and feel like ourselves again," resident Teri Cleveland said.

The underground sewer line broke and flooded Cleveland's basement back in November, ruining many of her belongings. And she's not alone, with scores of homeowners affected by the stinky mess.

"They don't care, and we are hard-working people and we aren't home," Cleveland said. "We need our homes fixed, and it wasn't our fault."

Related: Family friend saves dogs after sewage backup floods Queens homes

The city first blamed the homeowners for the ruptured sewer line, claiming they clogged it with grease following the Thanksgiving holiday. They then apologized and said the rupture was not the fault of residents.

Now, many residents say the city is slow to help them clean up the aftermath and get their money back.

"Our basement hasn't been fixed," Cleveland said. "It hasn't even been touched, not one drop."

Three months later, she's still living in a hotel and waiting to get reimbursed for the damages, along with many others.

Related: Victims of Queens sewage backup flooding plead for FEMA help

The city sent workers to clean up the affected basements and remove the damaged items and walls, but residents are still waiting on reimbursement.

Other homeowners who are able to live in their homes are still waiting to have appliances replaced.

"I have no heat, and my tenants have no heat because the hot water comes from the heat," Williemae Holmes said.

People have 90 days to file property damage claims with the city of New York's Comptroller's Office, and 7 On Your Side Investigates dug through more than 100 previous claims that have been made with the city's Department of Environmental Protection for other sewage accidents over the past few years.

Results show it takes an average of one year for people to get reimbursed for damaged property, but in some cases, homeowners waited up to three years to get paid back. Those affected by the November rupture say they can't wait that long.

A spokesperson for the comptroller's office said they can't comment on pending claims or give information as to how much, if any, has been paid out. However, the spokesperson did say the review process will be expedited in the situation.

CLICK HERE for information on filing a claim.

City Council member Costa Constantinides, who is chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee that oversees sewer issues, believes that filing a claim should not be that long of a process.

"Very few families in the city of New York can wait a year to three years to get reimbursed when you're talking about tens of thousands of dollars," Constantinides said.

He's bringing up the issue at next month's City Council meeting.

"It's making sure that moving forward, we have sort of legal structural system that works for residents and not for the city," Constantinides said.


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