Posted at 5:00 am
Isabelle Ducas The press
“Like Niagara Falls”
“It’s a constant stress when it rains. Whenever rain is forecast, we look at the forecast amount. We wonder if we should install the sandbags we bought. But there are limits to what you can do to protect yourself. »
Little did Véronique Saint-Pierre know she would be regularly in the water when she joined Square Cartier. The building in the Center-Sud district was flooded six times over a period of 14 years. Angry citizens are urging the city of Montreal to upgrade its ailing sewer system in the area to avoid repeated disasters during torrential rains.
The last time water entered their homes was on September 13. That day, 40mm of rain fell in downtown in one hour, causing sewer blockages, flooding and the disruption of part of the Montreal subway.
The water collected in the Rue Parthenais because there were not enough shafts to drain it away. In the Square Cartier building, it entered through the ground floor doors and returned through the sinks, showers and toilets. The corridor was covered with a foot of water, as were several apartments.
Twice in two years
After the last flood in August 2020, new floors had just been laid throughout.
“Everything has been renewed twice in two years. This time we decided to put ceramic on the floors instead of wood and have kitchen cabinets on legs in case we get flooded again,” explains Mathieu Langelier at the construction site of the condominium where he has lived for three years, on the first floor of the Square Cartier -building.
Repair work has not yet started in Véronique Saint-Pierre’s apartment. She has been living in an apartment with no flooring, with open walls, like many of her neighbors, since last September.
The community of owners has made several improvements to their plumbing system since the disasters of recent years. And he is still looking for ways to better protect the building against future floods with engineers, architects and other experts, says Daniel Vaudrin, manager of the condominium and member of the board of directors of the syndicate community.
“But the city also has to do something to solve the problem,” he said. Every time we ask questions, the city pulls out the duct tape of climate change causing extreme weather events, but there has been flooding here for several years. »
“We are the ones who have to take action when the city is clearly failing,” adds Mathieu Langelier.
Since the catastrophe of 2020, the building with 160 apartments spread over 5 floors is no longer insured against water damage. The cost of such coverage would have been astronomical due to the flooding of recent years.
Consequence: The work of at least 800,000 dollars must be paid for by the 160 co-owners, also on the upper floors, through a special assessment, which varies between 3,000 and 10,000 dollars depending on the size of the apartment and the bill.
In the same area, a little further east, on September 13, 2022, residents of Montgomery and Wurtele streets, who live in “shoebox”-type houses with finished basements, were also flooded.
In Marc-André Viau’s damaged basement, damage is estimated at $40,000 and only partially covered by insurance.
He and several of his flooded neighbors received a notice from the City of Montreal’s water service last month asking them to perform a series of jobs on their plumbing systems, including installing valves and pumps.
In their letter, the city gives them 90 days to complete the required work without subjecting themselves to the “penal provisions” provided for in the municipality’s bylaws.
“Our systems are compliant to drain the water, but there was 50 centimeters of water on the street, the valves and the pumps haven’t changed much,” laments Marc-André Viau. The water came in through the door like Niagara Falls. They tell us to raise our doorstep three feet if it’s impossible. »
The changes they are asking of us would not have protected us from the floods we had.
Alice Dufour-Thériault, neighbor of Marc-André Viau
Then, in early January, they received a letter from the city’s claims adjuster stating that they were not responsible for the damage caused by the floods. If they disagree with this decision, citizens have six months from the date of the disaster to take the city to court, which doesn’t leave them much time.
“We are currently discussing the possibility of starting a class action lawsuit,” says Ms. Dufour-Thériault.
Although the city refuses to compensate them, victims point out that several recent statements from elected officials and city employees indicate that they recognize the problems with the water mains in the borough.
“The network does not offer”
Speaking to the executive committee the day after the floods, Mayor Valérie Plante deplored “the torrential rains that are causing the grid to go unserviced” and stressed that elected community officials are asking the Quebec government for financial support to help them adapt to the to help climate change.
The director of asset management for the Service de l’eau de Montréal, Hervé Logé, told the Treasury Commission in early December that the city plans to replace an early 20th-century line in the industry, which would be the new pipe twice as big. This change would halve the risk of flooding for the Square Cartier building, which is otherwise vulnerable because it sits in a basin, he said.
In the office of Valérie Plante, who is also mayor of the municipality of Ville-Marie, it is explained that “the city is currently collecting advanced data on the current state of the pipes in the sector” in order to define the work to be carried out in flooded streets last September.
“An information event will be organized shortly, which will allow the population to be informed of the progress of this file,” says Catherine Cadotte, spokeswoman for the mayor.
The city also says that as part of its climate plan, it allocates 10% to 15% of its 10-year investment program budget to climate change adaptation measures, such as: B. “resilient parks” and drainage and green sidewalks.
Many complaints, little compensation
Would you like to claim damage from your municipality? Good luck with the compensation!
Whether it’s flooding from poor sewerage, a fall down an icy sidewalk, or a car damaged by a pothole in the roadway, only a minority of citizens will be able to prove a city’s neglect.
“In the analysis phase, we pay between 10 and 15% of the claims we receive,” said the director of the legal department of the city of Montreal, Patrice Guay, in an interview with La Presse.
When disputes end up in court, the city also wins most of its cases, according to La Presse. For example, between 2015 and 2021, Montreal paid $81.4 million following judgments or out-of-court settlements to settle claims totaling $693 million, or 11.8% of the amounts claimed.
Fourth great catastrophe
After the torrential rains of September 13, 2022, the city received 920 claims for compensation from flooded residents. “These rains resulted in the fourth-highest number of lawsuits filed against the city of Montreal in the past 20 years,” Patrice Guay said during a presentation to the Treasury and Administration Commission last December.
But the city rejects all claims. “Following an analysis of meteorological data, it appears that this event represented rainfall of exceptional intensity,” the communications service said in an emailed response.
After torrential rains on May 29, 2012 (70 millimeters in 30 minutes), the city of Montreal had received 3,717 applications, but also paid no compensation to anyone. Hundreds of property owners sued the city in court.
The processed cases remained pending, none were submitted to arbitration by the courts.
A spokesman for the city of Montreal
Other cases pending judgment include the July 5, 2005, August 2, 2008, and May 7, 2017 rains Square Cartier, had to compensate (see text on Tab. 2). The condo building’s syndicate is also suing Montreal over the August 2020 floods, but talks are ongoing with the city to see if a settlement is possible, says Daniel Vaudrin, the condominium manager.
Citizens should not be under any illusions. The City Act stipulates that municipalities have a resource obligation and no result obligation. Before a judge, all the municipality has to do is prove that it has taken reasonable means and shown care and diligence in fulfilling its duties. To be compensated, a citizen would have to show that there was negligence.
4 million for the flooded Rosemont
Last October, the Montreal City Executive Committee committed $4 million to amicably settle a class action lawsuit filed by a group of residents in the Rosemont neighborhood that was flooded four times in 2009 and 2011.
According to the settlement agreement signed a few weeks ago, which now has to be approved by the court, about 200 citizens will receive tens of thousands of dollars in material and non-material damages. For example, the group’s representative, Eugène Robitaille, is entitled to more than $67,000 plus interest calculated since 2009 and 2011.
Does that mean the city is admitting that its sewage system was faulty? No, because the amicable settlement is concluded without the parties’ acknowledgment.
However, the city government has repaired the sewer network in the area and taken measures to improve water intake.
“Each file has its peculiarities. In Rosemont’s case, it was normal rains that saturated the grid. Our allegation in filing this lawsuit was that there was gross negligence in the design and maintenance of the city’s network,” said attorney leading the class action, Marie-Anaïs Sauvé, who welcomed the “excellent settlement”.
Sometimes citizens manage to get compensation from a municipality by convincing the court of negligence. Here are some examples.
Shifted cones, invisible pothole
The law states that a “municipality shall not be liable for any damage caused by the condition of the road surface to a motor vehicle’s tires or suspension system” even if signage is not in place to warn motorists of danger.
However, a 2020 judgment still ordered the city of Montreal to pay $1,000 to Eric Buzaglo, who damaged his vehicle by hitting a deep pothole on the Highway 40 slip road.
The citizen was able to show that orange cones had been placed near the hole because of the danger, but that they had probably been knocked over by other motorists and that city officials had neglected to put them back in place.
“While it would be unreasonable to require the city to be monitored at all times, […] The city negligently left a pothole of this size and depth unprotected.”
No service during the holidays
Another decision in May 2022 also ordered the city of Sainte-Julie to pay more than $2,000 to a motorist whose vehicle was damaged by a pothole on Principale Street in December 2018.
Jacques Prince was able to prove that the city had made a serious mistake by failing to monitor a badly damaged stretch of road when weather conditions favored the formation of potholes.
The city’s surveillance program had been suspended for the holiday season. Road users thus fell “into a trap, the occurrence of which was foreseeable based on the weather forecast,” the verdict concludes.
Poorly maintained sidewalk
After a fall caused by a snowdrift blocking a pedestrian crossing, Jacques Bisson of Gatineau broke five teeth and suffered a lacerated brow arch.
However, Mr. Bisson wore boots with crampons. But the city of Gatineau negligently failed to clear one side of the intersection, according to a September 2019 ruling that ordered the community to pay its citizen $10,000.
A school warden who was crossing children at this location testified that he filed a complaint with the city the day before Mr. Bisson fell because the sidewalks were slippery and poorly cleared. However, reports submitted by a construction official indicate that the pedestrian crossing was not cleared immediately upon request.