A special meeting of the Water Pollution Control Authority is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon regarding the City Council’s 180-day moratorium on foreclosures. The authority will hear a presentation by the City Attorney’s Office where foreclosure action is initiated. It raises a question: what happens when the will of the council bumps against the will of a city agency when both concerns are advised by the City Attorney’s Office? Meanwhile retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez and attorney Jonathan Klein have pulled apart minutes of meetings, agendas and list of top 100 balances owned with some intriguing results.
The City Attorney’s Office is examining the legality of the council’s action that centers on stopping abusive collection action that has led to foreclosures. Lopez is providing pro bono advise to the Ordinance Committee, the driving force behind the moratorium. Lopez and several council members have raised the specter of aggressive foreclosure action against poor homeowners while high-profile businesses in arrears go untouched. Minutes of WPCA meetings also show that Ernie Newton, the council’s liaison to the WPCA, has hammered home that point.
City Councilman Marcus Brown, co-chair of the Ordinance Committee, says the council is working on reforms such as stopping the use of outside attorneys from bringing foreclosure action and limiting fees involved.
Referring to the City Attorney’s Office, Brown adds, “They have 90 days to give us their legal opinion. If they don’t act in 90 days the charter says we can pass the amendments to the existing ordinances without a legal opinion.”
The meeting will take place 5:15 pm in the Wheeler Room of City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace. Several council members, in addition to Brown, have been invited to attend including Aidee Nieves, Denese Taylor-Moye, Rosalina Roman-Christy, Jeanette Herron, Michelle Lyons and Eneida Martinez who serves as co-chair of Ordinance.
Meanwhile, attorney Jonathan Klein, who’s familiar with the WPCA foreclosure process, shares his assessment, in an email to Carmen Lopez, from an examination of minutes of WPCA meetings, agendas and top 100 in arrears:
No. 4 on the list, at $20,727.40 past due, is the Park Royal Condominium [Association, Inc.], which is at 2600 Park Avenue. Guess who owns a majority of the units there and controls the condo association? Benchmark Trading, Ltd.! Juda Epstein can’t foreclose on his own client (in which I believe, but cannot yet prove, he has an ownership interest), but why can’t the City hire someone else to do it? But you know what is even worse? I checked the land records online and there is this property has not even been liened by the WPCA. (Technically, by statute, a delinquent bill results in a lien by operation of law, but without a certificate of lien actually being recorded on the land records, as is routinely done on every homeowner who gets behind in paying the WPCA, no foreclosure action can be brought.
• Ganim Legal, P.C., of which the Mayor’s brother Probate Judge Paul Ganim, is the principal and president, and which owns Paul’s office at 2370 Park Avenue, is only No. 31 on the list, at $5,956.13 past due. A search of the land records online also shows that no lien has been recorded. [Editor’s note: Paul Ganim says he’s challenging the amount in court based on erroneous charges.]
• Columbia Towers, LLC is No. 2 on the list, at $27,572.92. It owns an apartment building at 50 Ridgefield Avenue that it purchased in 2007 for $5,000,000. I checked the Judicial Branch website, and there is only one lawsuit showing in which Columbia Towers, LLC was a party. It was a 2009 case (not City of Bridgeport-related), captioned Primrose Construction Co., Inc. v. Columbia Towers, LLC, Docket No. FBT-CV09-6004890-S. Guess who represented Columbia Towers, LLC? You guessed it–Juda Epstein. (At least liens (two that I can find) have been recorded in this situation, although no foreclosure action has been commenced.
By the way, William Kirby is on the list at No. 24, even though the WPCA foreclosed on his property. (I checked–he does not own any other property in Bridgeport.)
A few more observations regarding the WPCA:
• At the January Ordinance Committee meeting where the City Attorney’s office put on the big dog and pony show, Russell Liskov said that the WPCA has to foreclose its liens because it cannot force people to pay by turning off or disconnecting sewer service (for health reasons). However, Section 13.04.410 of the (Code of Ordinances), entitled “Discontinuance of service for failure to pay,” provides, “The WPCA shall have the right to discontinue sanitary sewer service to any person discharging into the sanitary sewers of the city who fails or refuses to make timely payment of the sewer charges for which he is billed. The basis under which service is discontinued shall be determined by the board of directors of the WPCA.” That ordinance was adopted on May 5, 2014. In years past, I have actually heard Russell threaten to cut off service as the ultimate weapon to get people to pay.
• I don’t remember if it was at that meeting or at an earlier time, but when it was suggested that the WPCA bill monthly so that people can more easily handle small payments, Russell Liskov explained that it cannot be done because the administrative costs of printing and mailing bills monthly, instead of quarterly, would be too expensive. Yet Section 13.04.360 of (Code of Ordinances), entitled “Billing frequency” provides, “Billing for sewer service charges for residential customers shall be made on a periodic basis at the beginning of the period for which service is to be provided, unless such residential customer charges are based on water consumption, in which case billing will be made coincident with water billings from the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company. Billing for sewer service charges for commercial, industrial and institutional customers shall be made generally concurrently with the monthly or quarterly water bills issued to them by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.”
Statement from Paul Ganim who is also Judge of Probate for Bridgeport:
I commenced a legal action against WPCA for its outrageous conduct in attempting to bill me for services that they never rendered. Back in 2016 there was an underground water leak at my office. None of the water went into WPCA controlled sewer system. I attempted on many occasions to rectify the situation with WPCA. I could not get the courtesy of a response. After numerous attempts to resolve and clearly an erroneous bill, I commenced to take legal action. That matter will be heard before the court and decided in October 2018. (See case here)
Update from Jonathan Klein:
WPCA did lien the property at 2370 Park Avenue. The certificate of lien is dated June 15, 2017 and was recorded on November 9, 2017. It relates to $1,997.74 billed on 9/28/2016 and $1,664.60 billed on 12/27/2016. The certificate of lien does not identify the name of the property owner/debtor, but the Town Clerk indexed the lien under the name of 2370 Park Avenue, LLC, as grantor, which is why no WPCA lien shows up on the land records indexed under the name of Ganim Legal, P.C.
From the approved City Council Resolution
WHEREAS, the number of liens, foreclosures and foreclosure-related evictions caused by the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) has become a citywide problem; and
WHEREAS, foreclosures destabilize neighborhoods and the loss of a home to foreclosure can devastate a family; in addition to losing what is often their most significant asset they are uprooted from community supports and often find themselves with no place to go; and
WHEREAS, the City Council Committee on Ordinances currently “has before it Resolutions 55-17, 56-17, and 57-17 all of which intend in their final form to rectify by Ordinance the many problems the City Council sees in the WPCA and the Lien Foreclosure process;” and
WHEREAS, a Moratorium of 180 days placed on the WPCA or any of its representatives in commencing any further Foreclosures would enable the Council Committee on Ordinances to complete their work with the pending three resolutions and for the full City Council to take the steps necessary to resolve the conflicts identified in the existing ordinances; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Bridgeport City Council that to enable the Ordinance Committee to complete its work, minimize unnecessary hardship on the residents of Bridgeport, that effective April 3, 2018 No Court Action to Foreclose a Lien Shall Be Instituted for a period of 180 days by the WPCA or any of its representatives AS AMENDED FROM THE FLOOR AT THE APRIL 2, 2018 CITY COUNCIL MEETING
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED by the Bridgeport City Council any and all foreclosures currently pending in the Superior Court shall be included in the moratorium and no further action shall be taken by the WPCA Attorneys to move pending case or cases in the Superior Court.