Brooklyn neighbors pressured to form homeowners association

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


Now here’s another report of a case where city dwellers are being pressured to create a homeowners’ association where none currently exists.

The location is a small neighborhood in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The roads are narrow and the homes are close together. The homes were built decades ago as vacation bungalows, and supplied with two sanitary sewer lines.

See the Google Maps satellite image of the neighborhood above.

Now the homes in the working class neighborhood are inhabited year round. They sustained significant damage in Superstorm Sandy in 2012, including irreparable damage to their sewer lines.

The complication: although the clogged sewer lines feed into public waste lines, the portion within this small enclave of homes are private lines. Homeowners are expected to pay for replacement of private sewer lines.

Here’s the history:


Wasting away: City won’t fix private sewer damaged by Sandy

A system of private sewer lines beneath a Sheepshead Bay block has been broken and clogged with sand since superstorm Sandy, and the city refuses to help, leaving neighbors to deal with human waste overflowing onto their property.

Residents of the block say the city is neglecting what could be a potential health hazard.

“Every time it rains this manhole overflows and s— seeps out all over the court,” said Richard Bowers, who lives right next to a manhole from the private sewer line that his house is not connected to. “I can’t keep my windows open.”

A Build It Back spokesman said that such private sewer lines were installed decades ago when many coastal properties were vacation bungalows, and were not designed for the kind of daily use they are receiving now.

Clearly, this is a risk to  public health, and warrants a public response.

So now the City’s Build It Back program is finally willing to replace the sewer lines – but only if the property owners agree to create a homeowners association to pay for and fund future maintenance.

However, many homeowners do not like that idea.


Neighborhood divided: Locals at odds over proposed homeowners association

Residents of Sheepshead Bay’s courts are split whether to form a homeowners association to pay for needed repairs to their private streets. The city’s Sandy-recovery program Build It Back is offering to fix up their broken sewers — which homeowners are actually responsible for maintaining — if they agree to get organized and put money away for future maintenance. But some say they’ve been getting along okay for years, and the association will just be another tax.

“If they’re not charging the rest of the world for this, don’t come after us. It’s wrong, it’s really wrong,” said Michael Rodriguez of Stanton Road. “It’s just an output of the city to have us take care of things on our own, which we’ve been doing anyway.”


Mr. Rodriguez makes an excellent point!

After all, it was the City that approved this substandard private sewer system decades ago, never anticipating the growth of Brooklyn or considering how a handful of property owners would ever be able to afford to replace sewer lines. That’s the ultimate root of the problem!

If owners cannot afford to fix the problem now, how will creating an HOA help them in the future? Chances are very high that owners would not set aside enough money to pay for a future private replacement.

And besides, why create another layer of bureaucratic governance, along with all the usual HOA baggage? Do owners want to serve as volunteer board members? Set an annual budget and pay for annual audits? Create restrictions and rules and then enforce them upon their neighbors?

Why should 60% of homeowners be able to force the other 40% to give up their private property rights and submit to the whims or tyranny of an HOA board?

And most importantly: why can’t the city simply assess these property owners to cover the cost of adding the two common waste lines to the public sewer system? That way, they can pay over several years on their property tax bills.

It seems to be a simple solution. But instead the City wants to impose additional costs and burdens on homeowners.




4 thoughts on “Brooklyn neighbors pressured to form homeowners association

  1. Seems there may have been benefit and fault on both sides before Sandy came and placed an urgent spotlight on a situation that had obviously gotten out of control. Prior to Sandy, those homeowners were benefiting from being “under the the radar” for decades regarding their common sewer lines. One customer to the city even though there were actually many. And continual usage on a system that was designed for occasional as homes began being used year round. The city however, as pointed out, should have taken control when the change from temporary living to the more compact daily living occurred and required a separation of the lines or upgrade the system for health and welfare, while bringing future properties into the system appropriately. This occurs in rural areas in the south all the time as development encroaches, why not in big cities.

  2. Wouldn’t Brooklyn be the last place to expect voluntary unanimity even to merely fund ongoing operations ? Politically unpalatable or not are local improvement surcharges, Is the city looking with 18th or 19th century eyes at public safety ? More serious than resistance elsewhere to assuming sloppy private roads approved carelessly during sloppy approval process in more recent times.

  3. The City could also assess owners an “impact fee”- payable over 10 years – for initial installation of public lines. Apparently, they are already using city sewer services, as their private (common) lines feed into the public sewer lines.

  4. Go figure, why doesn’t the city offer a special district without having an HOA? NO just another mandate that will not work. Why not just deed the streets over to the city? Besides they said it right, the City should have taken in future growth patterns and did not. Another mess up by city officials who really are to blame. Everyone thinks by having a HOA will solve the problem when in fact that is so far from the truth it just will compound more money problems. Find a better way instead of an HOA they do not work and never will. .

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