The Stories...so far
Part 2 - 12/20/14
Part 1 - 12/10/14
OTTAWA FLOOD-PRONE HOMEOWNERS FACE OFF AGAINST CITY
An Investigative report by Jeanne Rouleau
The City of Ottawa ‘Residential Protective Plumbing Program'(RPPP), leaves residents frustrated
Over the past few days, I've been speaking with several homeowners who have applied to the program. I heard comments such as: "Why do I need three (3) quotes, when some of my neighbours only had to submit one?" "I know who I want to do the work, so what's the point of getting two more quotes","we can't get plumbers to give us quotes", "when a plumber thinks he won't be getting the job, he doesn't bother coming to the house"," plumbers charge to come to the house, and come only if they have the time", and then finally "it's been dragging on for so long, and I keep getting nowhere with the plumbers, and the time it's taking. I'm at the point that I think I'll just forget about it".
Since all the people I've spoken with, have already been accepted to the program; have met all of the residence criteria; have had the RV Anderson assessment, and received their approval letter; and have at least one quote, (usually from the contractor they want to hire to do the work), they all question the City of Ottawa's motive in insisting on three (3) quotes.
Now, bylaw 2005-209 regarding the RPPP states in section 12 "An applicant in receipt of the notice of grant approval shall, (a) obtain and submit to the Deputy City Manager at least one (1) quotation but no more than three (3) quotations for the work with additional quote(s) required until such time as, in the opinion of the Deputy City Manager a reasonable quote is received; and (b) not proceed with the work until the Deputy City Manager has confirmed in writing that the quote received is reasonable and that the work may proceed". The owners hands' are tied.
It is not clear under which program representative's authority the rules were changed, but they are being enforced as evidenced by a letter from R.V. Anderson to one of the applicants which states "Once you receive a minimum of three quotes, please forward them to us for approval." James said he's waiting for the 3rd quote, but it's a waste of time.
I have a list of more than twenty (20) owners, whose applications are stuck at the three (3) quote phase, and until the three (3) quotes are submitted for approval to R. V. Anderson, everything is stopped for these people.
Another intriguing fact is that R. V. Anderson, having scheduled the date and time for the assessment with the client, arrived at the residence with another worker and two members from a plumbing company. Jess told me how disconcerted she had when she opened her door to admit no less than four people. At the time of our conversation, she couldn't think of the name of the plumbing company the two men came from.
I reviewed the bylaw again to see what other reason there might be to slow or stop the process. Bylaw 2005-209 states that "Grant allocations shall be considered by the City on a first come first served basis to a limit not to exceed the annual budget allocation for any given calendar year." Therefore, I contacted the City, and although they couldn't say how much, I was assured that there were plenty of funds available for the RPPP program, and that the City is still accepting applications.
On December 16, 2014, I spoke with a City of Ottawa 'Residential Protective Plumbing Program (RPPP)' representative, Frank Crook. When I asked him how many RPPP applications the City had received in 2014, I was informed that over 474 applications had been received between Jan. 1 to Dec. 16, 2014, but they were at different stages in the process.
However, when I asked how many had been processed in 2014, he said he wasn't at liberty to give out that information, and that I should contact his superior, Shelley MacDonald, Program Manager.
I asked him, before he hung up, if he would review the RPPP process with me, and what R.V. Anderson role was in this process:
- first, the application is completed and filed by the homeowner to the City of Ottawa Client Services;
- the Deputy City Manager's office verifies that the home and its owner, meet all the
criteria for the grant,
this phase can take anywhere from one to three months;
- the approval is sent to R.V. Anderson Associates Limited www.rvanderson.com;
- R.V. Anderson contacts the owner by mail to arrange for a home visit, to assess the work to be done;
- the home owner will then be advised to go ahead and obtain up to three(3) quotes for the scope of work determined by R. V. Anderson;
- the owner will be advised in writing by R. V. Anderson, of the amount that was approved, and that the work can proceed once he or the hired contractor has applied and received the appropriate permit;
- the work will then be inspected by a City inspector;
- the owner will be notified that the inspection has been approved (or failed), and that he may submit all relative documents to the City, for grant payment.
I was told by the City RPPP representative that the entire process may take one month to six months and sometimes more.
Section 13 of the bylaw reads "In the event of non-compliance by the applicant with the provisions of section 12 hereof, the City may withdraw its approval of the grant". (Section 12 is included above and relates to the quotations)
The City website reads "If you do not receive a grant because of insufficient funds this year, your application will be kept on file and you will be notified and considered for the program next year", but 2 out of 4 people had been advised that applications not processed within the 6 month time period, would have to be resubmitted, the following year.
Mr. Crook called me later the same day, to instruct me to direct any further inquiries to the City of Ottawa Corporate Communications.
Homeowner, Tom, said "it's normal for us to have a plumber in mind when we apply to the program." The quotes I've been privy to are all under the City's $4,000 limit, so owners don't see the necessity for another two quotes. It's unknown, at this time, just how many homeowners find themselves in this situation.
When I asked the City about the 2014 budgeted amount for the RPPP and how much had been spent, I was told that the information would only be made public in the Annual Report, to be released sometime in 2015.
There are a number of contradictions, and concerns about this grant program and how it's managed. The City of Ottawa may wish to review the Residential Protective Plumbing Program process rules and regulations, before storm/sewer damage occurs, especially for the stalled applications– Residential Protective Plumbing Program, the name says it all.
Part 1 - 12/10/14
If you're a homeowner in the City of Ottawa, and your property is served by City sewers, and your property is located within a historically flooded area, you may qualify for the City of Ottawa "Residential Protective Plumbing Program for Sewer Backup Protection By-law" (RPPP)
To assist with the Program, the City has secured the firm of R.V. Anderson Associates Limited (www.rvanderson.com). The application procedures are simple enough but it is unclear why they vary from one homeowner to the next. It seems the City and R. V. Anderson reserve the right to alter the procedures.
Some plumbers are dissatisfied with the City's program. This has resulted in some plumbers refusing outright to take the time to come to the residences, and they simply give over-the-phone quotes. Others charge between $50 and $70 for a quote. Homeowners find it disheartening because it's getting more and more difficult to obtain valid quotes for this program and the delays are stretching out to the six month time limit for the work to be done (R.V. Anderson letter to homeowner).
Since the bylaw states "Grant allocations shall be considered by the City on a first come first served basis to a limit not to exceed the annual budget allocation for any given calendar year." and "An applicant who does not receive a grant in any year because of insufficient funds in the current program, or because the studies referred to in subsection 8(c) hereof cannot be completed in the year in which the application is made, will be notified and advised to resubmit the application in the following year by the Deputy City Manager."
This leaves owners with the undesirable prospect of re-applying in the following year, and some have indicated that they're ready to let the whole thing drop.
City officials refused comment when asked for this article.
Jeanne Rouleau - WATER TODAY - Email
On May 11th, 2005, the City of Ottawa bylaw 2005-209 came into effect. The program makes it possible for residents, whose homes are located in these areas, to apply for a grant to help pay for 100% or 50% of the costs to protect their homes from storm and sewage damage. Details can be found on the City of Ottawa website at http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/funding/environmental-program-funding/residential-protective-plumbing-program
The procedure basically follows these lines: file an application with the Deputy City Manager; wait for the written confirmation that your application has been approved (about 2 weeks); the scope of the work will then be determined through a home visit by a program representative; wait for written notification; then contact one or more contractors to obtain quotes for the work proposed in the evaluation report; once a quote is approved, in writing, apply for a permit with the City, either directly or via the approved contractor; once the contractor has completed the work, a City representative will perform a final inspection; submit all relevant accounts to the City; and finally, the approved amount of the grant will be paid to you.
"The scope of work determined by the City, may include: installing a Fullport Backwater Valve on the sanitary line, which allows unobstructed sewage flow and automatic closure of the gate upon reversal of the flow (sewer backup); replacing the existing backwater valve on the storm line; the provision of clean-outs; the disconnection of footing or tile drainage from the partially separated sewer or combined sewer system; the installation of check valves; removal of driveway catch basin connections from the partially separated sewer or combined sewer system; removal of downspout discharge influence on foundation drainage; and, removal of other private property surface or groundwater drainage from the partially separated sewer or combined sewer system. For this work, the program covers 100% of the costs, up to $4,000. (all taxes included).
Or, the lesser of 50% of the cost of the work or $2500, where basement or cellar flooding resulting from City sewer backup has not occurred previously.
What is troubling is that after speaking with some homeowners, is it seems that while some homeowners submitted but one quote and were approved and the work completed within one month,- others were requested to submit a minimum of three quotes. As per Section 12 (a) of the bylaw, which reads "obtain and submit to the Deputy City Manager at least one (1) quotation but no more than three (3) quotations for the work with additional quote(s) required until such time as, in the opinion of the Deputy City Manager a reasonable quote is received".
Furthermore, if one of these quotes was deemed "unreasonable" and additional quote would be required. As per, R. V. Anderson, the definition of unreasonable is "if one or more of the plumbers you have consulted are not sufficiently independent of each other". This is not written in the bylaw.