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Raw sewage floods homeowner's basement; fighting county on who's responsible

Posted at 6:18 PM, Nov 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-08 10:45:42-05

BALTIMORE — If this picture grosses you out, just be glad you didn't have to smell it - for weeks.

"The smell was so bad I gagged. It was horrible," Mike Sheldon said. "Everybody that walked in was like running back outside."

Raw sewage flooded Sheldon's Baltimore County basement back in June. Several months later, he's still dealing with the damage that left all of his floors ripped up, and his newly remodeled bathroom torn apart. The ammonia in the air killed all of the fish in his fish tank.

"It was awful, and obviously, now my house is a mess," Sheldon said.

The root of the problem was a county sewer line that was clogged with debris. Sheldon filed a claim with the county, hoping to get paid back for the property damages.

Councilman David Marks advocated on his behalf.

But still - the claim was denied.

"The money it's gonna cost to fix it, I really don't have. But I have to get it fixed because I can't leave my house like this," Sheldon said.

Sheldon showed us the responses from the county attorney's office explaining why they say they're not on the hook for the damage. One email says, since the county had no notice of the "defective condition that caused the sewer back-up" - it's not liable.

Sheldon wonders - how could he have known there was a problem until raw sewage started flowing into his basement?

"I was supposed to inform them that the sewer line needs to be inspected and cleaned. That's not my job," Sheldon explained.

But the county argues - it is. A claims representative writes to Sheldon: "it is your responsibility to contact the utilities department to schedule routine maintenance."

Sheldon is working to secure an attorney who he says sees it differently.

"He thinks I have a case here that they were liable for the routine inspections and the routine maintenance and they apparently weren't doing it," Sheldon said.

A 2022 annual report from the county Department of Public Works includes a map showing a number of sewage backups that were documented in Sheldon's area. He argues - that should've alerted the county that there was a problem.

We reached out to the county attorney for comment but did not hear back.