Woman sues Penfield over sewage in her house

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Suit claims town's clerical error led to the recurring mess

PENFIELD, N.Y. (WROC) — It was the first time Meliha Sehovic and her husband had a large group over to their new home on Atlantic Avenue in Penfield.

“It was the day of my daughter’s first birthday party,” Sehovic said. “Someone had flushed the toilet and within a matter of minutes fecal matter started to come out of the tub and the toilet, and both the tub and the toilet overflowed and it just seeped into the hallway, almost into the kitchen.”

That was in 2019.

“Then it happened again, and again, and again,” she said. “It happened over the course of the next six months, each month.”

Sehovic had plumbers and the town come over for a look and she says they all said basically the same thing: Something was wrong with the pipe that connects her house to the public sewer, but no one could fix the problem.

This past summer at another party they received another disgusting surprise, but this time it was coming from outside the house.

Her father-in-law tracked a putrid smell to a spot in the front of their house.

“And he lifted up this bush that was there, there was a black tarp and he started lifting it and that’s when we discovered this opening to this huge pipe and he said, ‘Are you sure you’re not on septic? This looks like a septic opening.’ And I said absolutely not and that’s kind of how we discovered it,” Sehovic said.

They discovered that the documents that she and everyone else looked at when they bought this house were wrong.

The seller’s disclosure statement and the county records all said under sewer type, public, which means attached to the public system.

When there’s a septic system it should say private.

If the paperwork had said that, the septic might have been checked, but it didn’t, so it wasn’t.

“So it’s a big mistake on the town’s part,” Sehovic said.

Meliha makes that claim because she has this letter from Penfield Town Supervisor Tony LaFountain in which he writes connection to the public system was available in 1975 and, “It seems over time many people assumed your property was connected to the sanitary sewers.”

But LaFountain does not explain how public got onto the home’s records even though it’s the town that gives the county this kind of information.

LaFountain goes on to write, “Records indicate the property has never been charged for sanitary sewer usage in the past or present.”

That is to say, if Sehovic had checked the seller’s past tax bill she might have caught the discrepancy.

Jim Wurtenberg is a board member with the New York State Association of Home Inspectors.

He says when it comes to sewer type it’s industry standard to trust the county records.

“We don’t look at tax bills and we don’t have access to their water/sewer bill or anything like that,” Wurtenberg said. “We trust they’ve done their due diligence.”

So there Meliha was, stuck with a septic system that hadn’t been emptied or maintained in who knows how long.

She went to LaFountain and said she couldn’t afford to fix this and because the town messed up, they should help replace the septic.

“I said to him listen, the estimate for this is around $13,000 all I want is help to pay half,” Sehovic said adding that they had been saving for an eye surgery for their young daughter.

Even though the town recognized there was a problem, the supervisor said they can’t legally spend taxpayer money on something like this so Sehovic asked if the town could send a crew over to attach her house to the public sewer system across the street, but there’s a problem there: Atlantic Avenue is a state road and Sehovic says the town does not have jurisdiction, it would be complicated and even if she could do it, it would cost her a bundle.

Sehovic decided her only recourse was to sue the town and it’s because of that active lawsuit LaFountain declined to comment for this story.

LaFountain did write in his letter to Sehovic that he had suggested she write a letter or email describing her perceived damages so he could submit it to the town’s insurance company and noted that he had yet to receive the letter.

Sehovic says she didn’t send one because LaFountain made it clear that even with this move there was zero chance of her getting money.

Since the lawsuit was filed Sehovic says no settlement offer has been put on the table and her lawyers are no longer working pro bono, but she says despite the financial question marks she’s committed to pressing on.

“They are not going to stop me from telling my story,” Sehovic said. “And it might not help me, but at the end of the day if I can help one family avoid the two years of suffering that we’ve been through I think it’s worth it.”

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