Homeowners Claim City is Evading Talks on Proposal to Buy Out Flood-Prone Homes

By: Josh Sidorowicz Email
By: Josh Sidorowicz Email

"If you keep putting us off week after week, month after month, it's going to be flood number four pretty soon and we're scared."
 

-- Lori Fruk, Burchfield homeowner who wants to be bought out

Flooding in homes has been a major re-occurring headache for some Lansing homeowners who say they're frustrated the city isn't doing enough to mitigate the problem.

Last week, News 10 introduced viewers to homeowners living in the Burchfield neighborhood who are proposing a plan to have the city buy them out of their flood-prone homes.

But that solution might not be so simple because legally the City of Lansing could be off the hook.

"I've got a house I can't use," Linda Peterson said.

Their frustrations rising almost as fast as the past three floods they've had to deal with in their neighborhood.

"Every time we see it raining we just panic," Lori Fruk said.

Both Fruk and Peterson are two of the homeowners on Burchfield Drive who want the city to buy them out. They were hoping to discuss the plan further with the city at the public service committee meeting scheduled Friday, but it was cancelled.

"We were put off again, we've been waiting almost three years for resolution and once again they can't meet with us," Fruk said.

Fruk was told there weren't enough members available to attend. Sources tell WILX scheduling conflicts ultimately led to the meeting being postponed, which was specifically scheduled to discuss the legalities and details on the proposal.

But a proposal to have the city buy them out of their homes might not be as cut and dry as it seems on the surface. City officials in the past on several occasions have said the City of Lansing is not responsible for damages caused by this flooding under what is essentially governmental immunity.

"In this particular situation the government has waived immunity and said you can sue us but only if certain preconditions are met," said Devin Schindler, a professor at Cooley Law School.

Public Act 222, a state law from the early 2000s allows people to file lawsuits against governments operating sewage systems for potential compensation if a defect can be found, among other requirements like filing a claim within 45 days and being able to prove not only a defect in the system but that the city was aware of the defect and didn't fix it.

If the city were to buy out homeowners in Burchfield, the risk of setting precedent could prove to be extremely problematic in the future, according to Schindler.

"The problem is that could become evidentiary in future cases because for the government to pay out it certainly raises the possibility that in fact the system is defective," he said.

"The city would have to prove logical and rational explanation for buying out one home but not another if other people start to make similar claims."

And defective is exactly what homeowners like Fruk claim to be the case.

"If you keep putting us off week after week, month after month, it's going to be flood number four pretty soon and we're scared," she said.

An official date to reschedule the meeting is not been set yet but sources on the committee stressed they are not trying to purposely avoid the issue or the homeowners.


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