On Tuesday night, Richard Wise, a Harbor landlord came before the Harbor Sanitary District (HSD) board to seek a reprieve from sewer system development charges (SDC) totaling more than $16,000 for two properties. The board gave him 60 days to resolve the dispute, which has been ongoing for over 18 months.
Wise said he purchased a property in Harbor with the intent to renovate and then rent out the units in 2014. According to the HSD, the property Wise purchased had a single family home with sewage, a detached garage with a drain tied into the home’s wastewater plumbing and a storage unit without plumbing. About a year later, Wise purchased a neighboring property which had a similar setup.
According to documents, in Dec. 2017, HSD received a complaint from a tenant claiming Wise was converting the storage units on the properties into accessory dwelling units. When HSD employees arrived to investigate the complaint, the complainant invited the employee inside to document the work being done. It was at this point that HSD became aware the storage units had toilets and were attached to the sewer system.
With this knowledge, HSD ordinance dictates that SDC fees are immediately assessed to the current owner of the property.
According to HSD Manager Kelly Beebe, the complaint seemed to be accurate, citing it appeared as though major plumbing and electrical work was underway.
Wise argued the complaint was made by a disgruntled tenant, who was attempting to fix an electrical issue that regularly caused the circuit breaker to trip. As for the other work that was apparently being done, Wise said he was improving and updating the units at the time. He said at the time he purchased the properties, the storage units were being used as accessory dwelling units complete with indoor plumbing and electricity and had tenants living in them at one point.
Over the next 18 months, several attempts were made by HSD to collect the SDCs. At the same time, Wise made attempts to get a chance to argue his case and get clarification from the HSD board.
In early April, HSD notified Wise’s tenants that unless SDC fees were paid, water to all four units would be cut off. The set date for cutoff was April 10.
“Since we aren’t allowed to go onto the property to cap the illegal sewer lines,” Beebe said, “we can only cut off services at the street.”
Wise said cutting off water would effectively condemn all four units.
Wise appeared before the HSD board at its April 9 meeting attempting to address the issue. The public comment period, originally allotted five minutes per speaker, lasted more than two hours according to a recording of the meeting.
Wise said at his time of purchase, the accessory dwelling units were outfitted with toilets, that he did not install them, and that he should not be assessed the SDC. The HSD board argued even if that were the case, they were unaware of the additional tie-in to the sewer until the complaint in Dec. 2017 was filed and since Wise was the property owner at the time, he was responsible for paying the fees. The board suggested any other day would have been a better time to bring forth Wise’s issue than the night before sewage was to be cut off.
According to the minutes of meeting, Beebe suggested in order to displace less people, Wise move a tenant from the converted accessory dwelling into the single family home since the home was in the process of being vacated.
Wise was not receptive to this solution, “You’re not correct,” he said, “Why are you that deep into my business?”
Beebe said when notifying tenants of the impending cutoff, a tenant informed HSD staff that they were in the process of moving out according to an audio record of the meeting.
Board members would later raise concern over the fact tenants were moved into the vacated unit while this process was ongoing.
Wise asked the board to consider a payment plan for the SDC but it rejected on the grounds that per HSD’s contract, they are obligated to pay Brookings immediately.
“Since the properties are within Brookings’ urban growth boundary, we (HSD) pay them roughly $6,000 per SDC to use their system,” said Beebe.
Wise requested the board give him some time to source a loan for the SDC fees or find alternative accommodations for his tenants.
The board voted in April to give Wise an additional 30 days to pay before restarting the process of cutting off sewage to the properties.
Wise returned before the HSD board May 14 accompanied by some of his tenants and Curry County Commissioner Court Boice.
Boice said he was “not here to take sides” and that he represents all citizens of Curry County. He continued, saying he is working with the county’s code enforcement officer to source permits, which would make Wise’s additional dwelling units legal to occupy. To do this, however, the issue with HSD needs to be resolved.
In advocating for the two parties to find middle ground, Boice cited the housing crisis in the county, and asserted that condemning Wise’s units would do more to exacerbate the issue rather than solve it.
HSD reminded Wise they have ordinances they must follow and any deviation would set a precedent and be unfair to property owners who have paid to develop the system in the past.
Wise said since the April meeting, he has been trying to bring the units up to code and has been working on sourcing a loan from a private lender to cover SDC fees but has been unsuccessful.
Wise also said he has spoken with Brookings Public Works and Services Director Tony Baron and they had a conversation about negotiating a lower rate for the Brookings’ share of his owed SDC fees. While Baron said the city did not wish to comment on the status of an ongoing issue, he was unable to confirm such a conversation had occurred.
When HSD board members refused to back down from collecting the fees, Wise cited new landlord tenant laws that could subject him to criminal charges if he evicts tenants without proper cause or notice and requested an additional 60 days to either get the issue resolved or move tenants out.
After an executive session, the board voted to give an additional 60 days before cutting services.
Board members were clear in their discussion of the motion the extra time would be granted for the benefit of tenants rather than for the benefit of Wise.