City refuses to take responsibility

The city will not cut tree roots that are causing flooding in a building on Shoppers Row

The city will not cut tree roots that are causing flooding in a building on Shoppers Row.

Tricia Murphy and Michael Murphy, who own a building in the 900 block of Shoppers Row, say roots have been growing under the building for a number of years, creating blockages that lead to flooding.

“We…ask that the city do something to remove their trees’ roots from under our building before serious damage occurs,” wrote the Murphys in a letter to council. “The current situation is intolerable and completely unfair to us and our very patient tenants.”

But the city says it’s not bound to do anything.

“It’s the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the building and all of its parts,” says City Clerk Peter Wipper, who serves as the city’s risk and claims manager. “That would mean the sewer line that runs out to the road.”

Wipper says the city has had “the odd” claim related to tree roots blocking sewer lines but in all cases the city has denied claims where tree roots have gotten in because the onus is on the owner to keep the pipes clear.

“The BC Building Code reads that all pipe joints in a sewer system be water tight and root intrusion proof,” Wipper says. “Our Municipal Insurance Association which represents 160 governments always denies claims for root intrusion.”

But the Murphys are adamant that the problem is the trees, not their pipes. They’ve owned the building for 20 years and never had a problem until the existing trees were established.

“These trees need to be replaced or measures taken to keep their root system on city property and away from our lines,” wrote the Murphys. “We would also like to point out that there is potential for actual structural damage from these roots. As we have been paying taxes for 20 years now to the city for this property – last year our tax bill alone was $27,128.77 – we feel that we deserve some attention.”

Council, however, reviewed and received the letter at last week’s council meeting but took no further action. Wipper says council could have ordered city staff to cut the roots but that would have been contrary to the practice followed by other municipalities.