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The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of the Ombudsman

A division of the Portland City Auditor's Office

phone: 503-823-0144

email: ombudsman@portlandoregon.gov

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 310, Portland, OR 97204

Environmental Services

Year

Problem

Resolution

2018

A homeowner received notice that her sewer line was scheduled to be cut off immediately and that she faced penalties for not resolving an illegal "party line" sewer. The homeowner said she did not receive a notice that had been sent out six months earlier. She asked for an extension as well as expedited approval for a financial assistance plan. 

The Ombudsman recommended that property owner not be cited for non-compliance and be considered for the financing program. Environmental Services agreed. The homeowner eventually completed the work.

2018

Environmental Services made an offer to purchase a house in the Johnson Creek floodplain. The owner accepted the offer. The City then hired an appraiser, who valued the house significantly lower than the original offer. The appraisal was not completed until several months after the homeowner accepted the original offer, reducing her opportunity to solicit better offers during the prime selling season. The owner, who is low income, said the City was taking advantage of her. 

The Ombudsman reviewed the appraisal and questioned the practice of conducting one after making a good faith offer that the homeowner accepts. Environmental Services agreed to review the case and ended up making an offer the owner found acceptable. 

2017

During a real estate transaction, a Portland resident discovered that his house was hooked up to a septic tank, instead of the public sewer system. The resident had been paying sewer charges to the City for fifteen years. The resident sought a refund, but found out that the Bureau of Environmental Services’ Code limits refunds of sewer charges to three years.

The Ombudsman recommended that the bureau seek City Council’s approval to refund the resident for the full fifteen years’ worth of charges. The bureau agreed, Council approved, and the resident was refunded $5,054.

2017

After a Portland homeowner accepted an offer to sell her house, the prospective buyer conducted a sewer scope and discovered the home was not legally connected to the public sewer. The prospective buyer conditioned the sale upon it being fixed. The Bureau of Environmental Services told the homeowner that City Code required her establish a legal connection and pay a $6,531 connection fee, in addition to the cost of digging a new sewer line. It turned out that the bureau knew of the illegal sewer connection in 2010 when the house was under prior ownership. For unknown reasons, the bureau did not require the previous owner to establish a legal connection and never otherwise notified the current homeowner.

During the Ombudsman’s investigation, the bureau conceded that it made a mistake when it did not require the previous owner to establish a legal connection to the sewer system. The Ombudsman concluded that it was unfair to charge the current property owner a fee that the bureau should have charged the previous property owner. The previous owner may also have been eligible for the bureau’s loan and deferral programs. The current homeowner could not take advantage of the financing programs because the sale of her house was imminent. The Ombudsman recommended that the bureau waive the connection fee. The bureau agreed.

2016

A property owner complained that the Bureau of Environmental Services was charging him at the higher commercial stormwater rate even though the City had rezoned his property as residential in 1993. 

Based on research conducted by the Ombudsman, the bureau agreed to reduce the amount owed and then further lowered the property owner’s bill by recalculating the square footage of impervious surface based on the deterioration of asphalt on the property.

2015

A commercial property owner learned that the Bureau of Environmental Services was overcharging him for stormwater run-off. Repeated phone calls and nine months later, the bureau provided him with a partial refund, but accused him of disingenuously seeking money owed to others. 

The Ombudsman combed through utility billing records and found evidence that the owner was due an additional refund, which the bureau paid.