No safeguards for oil tank removal: homeowner

Everton McLean
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Gower Street resident afraid house will be damaged when neighbour's lawn is dug up

When Sean Gibbons heard people digging outside his Gower Street home a couple of weeks ago, he thought he was reliving a homeowner's nightmare.

In 2003, Gibbons' next door neighbour had a problem with an underground oil storage tank, which had a leaking pipe, so it was dug up and removed. Gibbons didn't think much of it, until the digging, he believes, caused his house's foundation to shift.

Top photo, Gower Street resident Sean Gibbons shows the boundary line by his home and an adjoining home on Gower Street in downtown St. John's. Bottom photo, The rear of the homes on Gower Street, where digging occurred before it was stopped last Friday.

When Sean Gibbons heard people digging outside his Gower Street home a couple of weeks ago, he thought he was reliving a homeowner's nightmare.

In 2003, Gibbons' next door neighbour had a problem with an underground oil storage tank, which had a leaking pipe, so it was dug up and removed. Gibbons didn't think much of it, until the digging, he believes, caused his house's foundation to shift.

The movement caused about $6,000 in damage - money his insurance company wanted him to sue his neighbour to recover.

Instead of wading through the courts, he swallowed the costs.

But when Gibbons heard workers digging April 17 - this time on the property on the other side of his home - he rushed out to stop them.

Again, the problem was a leaking oil storage tank that had to be removed, as per provincial government regulations.

He said he managed to stop the workers before they went any further with the digging, after he learned they didn't have a permit from the city.

However, he said, he expects them back.

"I'm concerned that when they dig the ditch, I expect those guys have quite a bit of experience, but at the end of the day, we're dealing with ground here and foundations that are 100 years old," Gibbons said.

Since learning about the digging, he's been calling city and provincial officials, trying to find out what can be done to make sure his house isn't damaged, or what recourse he has if it is.

He's gotten mixed messages, with one official telling him the contractors are required to have an engineer on site to make sure his foundation isn't compromised, while another says there's no such requirement.

Gibbons said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth even told him that he had only one recourse if something goes wrong - settle it with the neighbour.

Ellsworth told The Telegram the city issues permits, but "we don't come stand over you."

"If he feels there's something done next door that endangered his property, it's an issue between property owners," he said.

St. John's building and property management director David Blackmore backed up Ellsworth's take on the issue.

He said the cleanup of an oil leak and the removal of a tank falls under provincial environmental regulations. The city simply gives permits for the work done on site.

Blackmore also said anything that happens to another property would have to be dealt with by the property owners.

"That's a civil matter," he said.

But Gibbons doesn't want to take his neighbour - who lives in an Asian country and rents the property - to court.

He said he wants to avoid that headache and cost by ensuring steps are in place to protect his property. He says an engineer or other qualified person should be required on site to make sure no problems arise.

"If something hypothetically went wrong then, what would happen?" he said.

Gibbons said there should be some other recourse besides holding his neighbour responsible after the damage is done.

Meanwhile, according to a provincial Environment department spokeswoman, the heating oil tank regulations don't require any policing of the site to make sure removal of the leaking system doesn't affect surrounding properties. It simply requires the owner to act when a deficiency is found.

Not available

As well, any variances that might be applied for to stop the dig have to be requested by the homeowner, who, according to Gibbons, lives in another country and rents out the property. He hasn't returned calls, Gibbons said.

Attempts to reach the owner by The Telegram were unsuccessful.

Gibbons said he's frustrated by the situation. He said he wants the tank removed, too, and the land remediated, but he's afraid doing so without engineers on site could result in more trouble.

"My preference is to have it out, but I want it done properly."

emclean@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Gower Street, St. John's

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • city dweller
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    City poilicy not withstanding, ordinary citizens should not be negatively impacted by activities occuring on adjacent properties. The city has a much longer list of items it is not responsible for than, than it IS responsible for.

    The city will gladly take our taxes, they should also take our concerns.

    Mr. gibbons, a municipal election is looming on the horizon, i suggest you contact those who will be looking for your vote, perhaps a little arm twisting is in order here.

    On another issue, they expect citizens in the west end to do with less recreational facilities than citizens in the east end, and rationalize this by stating that the west enders go to Mount Pearl for their recreation. Honestly, The St. John's council is pathetic.

  • July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    What is the point of the city issuing permits ? Just to collect fees ? Or to ensure there is some regulatory oversight that the job is done properly and in a civil manner ?

    If the city just issues permits at anyone's request and they are approved without thought or reason, then there is absolutely no point in their existence at all.

    But I am not surprised they started digging without permits. I see many people not bother with permits for lot improvements in my area. I also go as far as question the use of permits in new home construction where the work done is substandard and not inspected.

    I believe counsel has lost the understanding for issuing permits. They are not issued as a matter of ritual, they are issued to ensure conformity of standards and to protect the interests of the community. In this case, it seems counsel's suggestion of sueing the neighbour for any problems arising out of a dig under a city issued permit are ill-conceived. Counsel does not absolve itself of accountability by issuing a permit. The converse is true. Counsel, by issuing a permit, takes responsibility as the overseer by granting permission.

    I would advise the worried homeowner to sue both the counsel and the adjacent house's homeowner should problems arise out of their collective neglect. Any damages done are in no way the responsibility of the innocent party involved, and in no way can the onus of accountability be carried by the worried homeowner.

    Counsel has now been made aware and cannot feign ignorance. Counsel has within it the power to deny a permit to protect one of it's citizens from likely damage - as has already been establish from a similar experience on the other side of this guy's house. It has already been proven that there is obviously an engineering hurdle to overcome to do this type of work at this particular location.

    This is all you need court.

    How disappointing counsel does not understand the premise of issuing permits. All 'professionals' but not an expert in sight.

  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    The sheer lack of regulation here is pretty scary. Apparently if the city gives you a permit it's a license to do as you please and anyone put out by your project has only the courts to apply to for recourse. This is why we see construction sites (last fall down the road from the Basilica) where there is little thought given to safety. I'm not looking forward to a new home being built next door to my 100+ year old house, the city gave the permit and the contractor will do as they please. I agree completely with Mr. Gibbons, if there is a permit in place the city should ensure the work is done properly (with an enigneer on site before and after) when there is a potential impact on neighbours.

  • Wally
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    So why does the city issue a permit and collect a fee if they do nothing, and cannot do anything and the province's legislation includes responsibility for the scope of removal oil an oil tank.

    Doesn't seem right for the city to make money on this.

  • Irked
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    What irks me, is that the mayor and various councillors are at the ready to wade into issues of a provincial or national scope, but are generally not heard from on municipal issues unless prodded by the media or public.

    These people are in general, a bunch of grandstanders and opportunists who are in council to raise their own profile for some other purpose. Many have political ambitions of a higher calling (Okeefe and Ellsworth are likely of this ilk) and are using municipal politics as a jumpoff point, and then you have Duff whose agenda to push the snob factor.

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    First thing that has to happen is a forced repeal of the Nuisance Law.

    Second a friend of mine worked in Halifax where his job with a contractor was to photograph and document conditions of people's property prior to blasting. Any broken concrete, etc would then be repaired no problem. I suggest something similar happen in this city for cases like this.

  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Ron Ellsworth, in a frenzy of election-year preparations, attempts to be the spokesperson for city council and once again shoots himself in the foot he placed in his mouth. Ron wants to be seen at all times, he should make sure his brain is in gear before engaging his mouth.

  • hope
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Our city council can only issue legal threats or as stated expect neihgbours to fight it out, whatever the issue. Officials dont even have the courtesy to respond to written complaints., MANY ARE RUDE.Who do they think are paying their salaries.

  • Joe
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Where are all the City inspectors and Engineers??
    If you were building a new home they would be all over it like ants; they inspect everything and if something was not up to code they would make you correct it or you would receive a Stop Work Order...pretty quick at that.
    Here we are with a contractor without a permit working on a contaminated site.
    Isn't contaminated materials supposed to be removed by trained professionals and transported to a certains part of Robin Hood Bay.
    I suggest Mr.Gibbons hire someone with a video camera to be there every day the contractor is there.
    It will prove to be valuable in court.
    As a side line its time for the City of St.John's to get off their collective arses; they are pretty swift at raising and collecting taxes as well as permits fees; but the homeowner has to fight a person who they gave permission to perform the work in the first place.
    Where is provincial Environment in all this???
    Election day is not far away!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Concerned
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Not really sure why Mr. Gibbons did not agree to sue his other neighbour. It would have been an insurance job, as every homeowners policy I have seen has liability insurance.

    Its nothing personal. Especially where insurance is involved. I think the insurance company had every right to expect that the damages would be sued for.

  • mercedes
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Make no wonder Mr. Gibbons is upset and frustrated! Who would have known that the city had no agency in place to protect a man and his property. Absentee landlords are notorious for this. If the city can't protect us from them then all these houses should be shut down, and all homeowners in the city should get behind Mr. Gibbons!

  • city dweller
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    City poilicy not withstanding, ordinary citizens should not be negatively impacted by activities occuring on adjacent properties. The city has a much longer list of items it is not responsible for than, than it IS responsible for.

    The city will gladly take our taxes, they should also take our concerns.

    Mr. gibbons, a municipal election is looming on the horizon, i suggest you contact those who will be looking for your vote, perhaps a little arm twisting is in order here.

    On another issue, they expect citizens in the west end to do with less recreational facilities than citizens in the east end, and rationalize this by stating that the west enders go to Mount Pearl for their recreation. Honestly, The St. John's council is pathetic.

  • July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    What is the point of the city issuing permits ? Just to collect fees ? Or to ensure there is some regulatory oversight that the job is done properly and in a civil manner ?

    If the city just issues permits at anyone's request and they are approved without thought or reason, then there is absolutely no point in their existence at all.

    But I am not surprised they started digging without permits. I see many people not bother with permits for lot improvements in my area. I also go as far as question the use of permits in new home construction where the work done is substandard and not inspected.

    I believe counsel has lost the understanding for issuing permits. They are not issued as a matter of ritual, they are issued to ensure conformity of standards and to protect the interests of the community. In this case, it seems counsel's suggestion of sueing the neighbour for any problems arising out of a dig under a city issued permit are ill-conceived. Counsel does not absolve itself of accountability by issuing a permit. The converse is true. Counsel, by issuing a permit, takes responsibility as the overseer by granting permission.

    I would advise the worried homeowner to sue both the counsel and the adjacent house's homeowner should problems arise out of their collective neglect. Any damages done are in no way the responsibility of the innocent party involved, and in no way can the onus of accountability be carried by the worried homeowner.

    Counsel has now been made aware and cannot feign ignorance. Counsel has within it the power to deny a permit to protect one of it's citizens from likely damage - as has already been establish from a similar experience on the other side of this guy's house. It has already been proven that there is obviously an engineering hurdle to overcome to do this type of work at this particular location.

    This is all you need court.

    How disappointing counsel does not understand the premise of issuing permits. All 'professionals' but not an expert in sight.

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    The sheer lack of regulation here is pretty scary. Apparently if the city gives you a permit it's a license to do as you please and anyone put out by your project has only the courts to apply to for recourse. This is why we see construction sites (last fall down the road from the Basilica) where there is little thought given to safety. I'm not looking forward to a new home being built next door to my 100+ year old house, the city gave the permit and the contractor will do as they please. I agree completely with Mr. Gibbons, if there is a permit in place the city should ensure the work is done properly (with an enigneer on site before and after) when there is a potential impact on neighbours.

  • Wally
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    So why does the city issue a permit and collect a fee if they do nothing, and cannot do anything and the province's legislation includes responsibility for the scope of removal oil an oil tank.

    Doesn't seem right for the city to make money on this.

  • Irked
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    What irks me, is that the mayor and various councillors are at the ready to wade into issues of a provincial or national scope, but are generally not heard from on municipal issues unless prodded by the media or public.

    These people are in general, a bunch of grandstanders and opportunists who are in council to raise their own profile for some other purpose. Many have political ambitions of a higher calling (Okeefe and Ellsworth are likely of this ilk) and are using municipal politics as a jumpoff point, and then you have Duff whose agenda to push the snob factor.

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    First thing that has to happen is a forced repeal of the Nuisance Law.

    Second a friend of mine worked in Halifax where his job with a contractor was to photograph and document conditions of people's property prior to blasting. Any broken concrete, etc would then be repaired no problem. I suggest something similar happen in this city for cases like this.

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Ron Ellsworth, in a frenzy of election-year preparations, attempts to be the spokesperson for city council and once again shoots himself in the foot he placed in his mouth. Ron wants to be seen at all times, he should make sure his brain is in gear before engaging his mouth.

  • hope
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Our city council can only issue legal threats or as stated expect neihgbours to fight it out, whatever the issue. Officials dont even have the courtesy to respond to written complaints., MANY ARE RUDE.Who do they think are paying their salaries.

  • Joe
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Where are all the City inspectors and Engineers??
    If you were building a new home they would be all over it like ants; they inspect everything and if something was not up to code they would make you correct it or you would receive a Stop Work Order...pretty quick at that.
    Here we are with a contractor without a permit working on a contaminated site.
    Isn't contaminated materials supposed to be removed by trained professionals and transported to a certains part of Robin Hood Bay.
    I suggest Mr.Gibbons hire someone with a video camera to be there every day the contractor is there.
    It will prove to be valuable in court.
    As a side line its time for the City of St.John's to get off their collective arses; they are pretty swift at raising and collecting taxes as well as permits fees; but the homeowner has to fight a person who they gave permission to perform the work in the first place.
    Where is provincial Environment in all this???
    Election day is not far away!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Concerned
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Not really sure why Mr. Gibbons did not agree to sue his other neighbour. It would have been an insurance job, as every homeowners policy I have seen has liability insurance.

    Its nothing personal. Especially where insurance is involved. I think the insurance company had every right to expect that the damages would be sued for.

  • mercedes
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Make no wonder Mr. Gibbons is upset and frustrated! Who would have known that the city had no agency in place to protect a man and his property. Absentee landlords are notorious for this. If the city can't protect us from them then all these houses should be shut down, and all homeowners in the city should get behind Mr. Gibbons!