Fed-up South Seattle Residents Sue Housing Agency
Residents of the NewHolly development on South Beacon Hill are suing the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), saying the agency has done nothing about exploding pipes, undersized water heaters, improperly installed drainage systems, and other defects in the former public-housing complex.
The lawsuit stems from a 2006 report that found numerous problems with pipes and heating systems at NewHolly, ing pipes that burst inside walls, water heaters that exploded or were too small, and unacceptable levels of lead in some pipe fittings. The suit also charges that SHA staff "mismanaged the [homeowners association's] affairs" during the eight years it controlled the NewHolly board of directors, by failing to fix or disclose construction defects, ignoring problems with drainage, potholes, and irrigation, and failing to maintain required insurance, among other complaints.
The homeowners' association board attempted for years to get SHA to do something about the problems at NewHolly, board chair Erika Bliss says, only to get the runaround again and again. "We said, we are fed up with the treatment we've been getting. You guys don't take our concerns seriously," Bliss says. "After trying to work with SHA for years and years, the trust is completely destroyed, and that's a shame, because we'd really like to work with them."
Jonathan Wall, who has lived at NewHolly with his wife and two children for about six years, was up late one night when he heard a loud sound coming out of the room that houses his hot-water heater. "I heard a big sound and I ran into the room. Water was spewing everywhere," Wall says. "I had to turn the water off and drain the hot-water tank." The culprit in the explosion: A faulty piece of tubing made by the Canadian company Kitec, which is the subject of numerous class-action lawsuits across the country, including in Las Vegas and Albuquerque. If he hadn't been up late, Wall says, the water heater "would have just kept spewing out hot water all over the place," causing potentially thousands of dollars in damages.
SHA knew the pipes were faulty at least as far back as June 2006, when a consultant hired by the agency completed a report recommending that all the tubes be replaced. But the agency didn't release the report, which also included the alarming revelation that the consultants had found lead in the pipes in at least one NewHolly home, until December 2007, when homeowners asked SHA to look into what was causing heating pipes to leak into their walls. "SHA knew about these problems for years," says homeowners' association attorney Dave von Beck. "They've been getting complaints about the heating systems since 2003. We believe it's SHA's responsibility to fix them."
Residents say SHA wanted homeowners to join the agency in suing Kitec for damages; not surprisingly, residents said they weren't interested in participating in any SHA lawsuit. (SHA did not return a call for comment; residents say they don't think SHA has sued Kitec to date). "We said, if we join a lawsuit with you, we will lose our recourse with you," Wall says. "They're trying to get out of their responsibility." Bliss adds, "They can sue whoever they want, but from our perspective, these problems are the developer's [SHA's] responsibility." Residents want SHA to pay the damages and fix all the faulty equipment in their houses, including hot-water heaters and pipes—a demand that could work out to millions of dollars. Wall says if SHA doesn't do something about his heating system, he'll have to replace it himself—a fix von Beck estimates would cost around $17,000. Still, Wall says he won't have much choice. "If we go to sell our house down the road and we have this system hooked up, I won't be able to tell [a prospective buyer] it works. We'll have to deal with it eventually."