Toronto

Toronto woman slapped with bill after Bell digs up her lawn, breaks water line

A Toronto woman was shocked to arrive home to find a massive hole in her front lawn and her water shut off this winter. Then, she found out it might cost her.

Juixiang Liu has been fighting with Bell and the city since February incident

Juixiang Liu said she had no notice Bell was planning to dig up city land next to her house. Her family was left without water for more than a day after the contractor hit a water pipe. (Charlsie Agro/CBC)

A Toronto woman was shocked to arrive home to find a massive hole in her front lawn and her water shut off this winter.

The culprit? Routine maintenance carried out by Bell that was approved by the city but wound up breaking a water pipe.

Juixiang Liu said her family received no advanced notice about the work outside her home on St. Clair Avenue East. Then, due to the broken pipe, they went without water for over 30 hours on an early February day when temperatures reached –16 C.

Today, her lawn is still marred by a muddy swath the size of a small car. And worst of all, she said, the city is asking her to pay for the water shut-off fee.

Liu said she kept the broken water pipe as proof of what happened. (Charlsie Agro/CBC)

"It's like being kicked back and forth.… I feel helpless," Liu told CBC News.

Liu said she's been talking with Bell since February. The company, she said, only offered to reimburse her after CBC News began looking into the story.

Liu said the company called her this week to offer to pay the bills associated with the repairs, fix her lawn once the weather improves and give her three months of free internet — something she said she may decline.

"I don't think the internet is as important as water," she said.

Liu is also upset with the city, which she said should be more careful when it comes to issuing work permits.

A Bell spokesperson said that the maintenance work was being done on equipment buried in a city easement in front of Liu's house and that the work was authorized by the city. However, the contractor failed to notify Liu of the planned work.

"We've followed up with the contractor about that," spokesperson Caroline Audet told CBC News in a statement.

Audet also confirmed Bell had offered Liu some "goodwill compensation."

City spokesperson Lyne Kyle said it's Bell's responsibility to notify homeowners at least 48 hours before work begins, though there are different rules for emergency work and pre-planned construction.

Kyle also confirmed by email that Toronto Water was called to the home to deal with the broken pipe. Toronto Water will work with Bell and the customer to deal with the charges, she said.

Bell workers filled in the hole and will repair Liu's lawn when the weather improves. (Charlsie Agro/CBC)

Jacqueline White, the city's director of transportation services for North York, said the 48 hours notice is more like a courtesy and is not enforced.

There is also no penalty for a utility provider if a property owner doesn't receive a heads up of upcoming work, she said.

'Big hole' mars front lawn

Liu said her ordeal began when she returned home from work on a Monday night, Feb. 8. The only warning she had was that her daughter had mentioned a work crew — either Bell or Rogers — had arrived shortly before she left for school.

Absolutely I'm not the person who should pay the bill.- Juixiang  Liu

When she got home, "I found a big hole filled with water and an orange fence," Liu said.

On her door was a notice that the water had been shut off.

Liu said it took her a while to figure out what was going on. It wasn't until Tuesday, when a Bell technician called to ask whether the water had been turned back on, that she pieced together what happened.

By Tuesday night at 9, city workers had fixed the broken pipe and restored water to the home, but since the pipe was still uncovered, Liu said city workers told her to keep the water running so it wouldn't freeze.

Days later, Bell workers filled in the hole.

Last week, Liu received a water bill for $267.73 — up dramatically from her previous payments. Part of that bill is an $82 shut-off fee.

"Absolutely I'm not the person who should pay the bill," Liu said.

Liu said above all she wants an end to the predicament, and hopes nobody else has to go through something similar.

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