Merchant evades $18,000 water bill with help of local pol

By ALLISON SUMMERS

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell’s office saved a Riverdale business owner $18,000 in water bills last week after a staffer recognized the billing period in question coincided with a major water main break.

Back in June 2009, Tremont Paint Store owner Mark Lipton began receiving a series of bills for an extraordinarily high amount of water usage.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts to contest the bills, which Lipton knew did not reflect his characteristic usage, the Department of Environmental Protection threatened to take his building in a water lien sale if he was unable to prove that he had not used the amount of water billed.

“If you look at the businesses on 231st Street, the buildings are very small,” Lipton said. “There was no way I could have possibly used all that water.”

Lipton said the amount of water he was billed for was enough “to fill a few dozen swimming pools in a three-month period.”

Desperate and frustrated, the business owner turned to Koppell’s office, via the Kingsbridge Business Improvement District, for help.

A request for the records of the Office of Emergency Management revealed that Lipton had been billed during the period following a water main break on West 231st Street and Broadway.

A subsequent request for records from the Department of Buildings showed that the break had caused damage to the cellar walls of Lipton’s building, causing leaks that explained the massive amounts of water that were unaccounted for.

Following these findings, the DEP last week dropped all charges and the threat of a water lien sale, acknowledging that under the circumstances, Lipton was not responsible for the excessive water usage.

Koppell credited Andrew Sandler, his director of community affairs, for drawing the connection between the water main break and Lipton’s exorbitant bill.

“He actually researched to determine that the bill the city was trying to collect related to the very time when the flood occurred,” he said. “It was wonderful that we were able to help him. That paint business has been there for decades and decades.”

Lipton was also extremely grateful for the councilman’s help and his staff’s perseverance.

“When I approached your office with a DEP water bill of $18,000, which I had been fighting for over a year, I had little hope of success, feeling a bit like David vs. Goliath in taking on New York City,” he said in a statement.

“I knew that my building did not use all the water for which we were being billed, but could not find a friendly ear. Although it wasn’t easy, your office presevered and ultimately got the bill corrected and left me with a credit balance, all weeks before the city was about to take my building in a lien sale! Bravo and thank you to your staff for their incredible efforts.”

The business owner acknowledged that without Koppell’s help, his whole business would have gone under.

“There was no way I could have possibly paid those bills,” Lipton stressed. “I would have lost my building and my business.”

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