Avella calls on city to fix root damage

Shah Ahmed (c.) asks for help with tree roots from state Sen. Tony Avella and Community Board 13 District Manager Lawrence McClean. Photo by Steve Mosco
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Spending hundreds of dollars per year fixing pipes and cleaning his basement is not something Shah Ahmed wants to keep doing, so the Jamaica resident contacted state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) to help him get to the root of the problem.

Avella joined Ahmed and Community Board 13 District Manager Lawrence McClean in asking the city Parks Department to take responsibility for city tree roots penetrating sewer lines, causing damage and financial hardship.

“How does the Parks Department expect middle-class homeowners to engage in the expensive and complicated process of preventive work to protect their pipes against the infiltration of city roots?” asked Avella, who said he has received dozens of complaints from residents concerning tree roots invading pipes and causing sewage backup.

A Parks spokesman said strong pipes cannot be infiltrated by tree roots, so the best course of action is for the homeowner to have the sewer line repaired properly.

“Tree roots cannot damage sound pipes, but sometimes grow into a sewer line if there is already a leak because they follow water availability,” said the spokesman. “Therefore, the best way to prevent this from occurring is for the homeowner to have his or her sewer line repaired.”

But Avella contends that residents should not have to shoulder the expense of paying for new sewer lines when a city-owned tree caused the damage.

“Homeowners cannot protect their pipes against the infiltration of city roots until the line is clogged, at which point it is already too late to engage in preventive work,” said Avella. “It is extremely unreasonable to make homeowners bear the entire cost of replacing their sewer pipe if the primary cause of pipe blockage was induced by a city-owned tree.”

Ahmed, who has lived in the house since 2000, said he is constantly forced to clean up the overflow of dirty water in his basement — an extremely costly nuisance. He said he spends more than $200 per year to hire plumbers to clean roots from the house’s pipes.

“The tree roots penetrated my garden and eventually my sewer,” he said. “My plumber cleaned the sewer and showed me the roots that were in the pipe. This led to a sewer backup in my basement, creating a foul odor and a health hazard. I complained to the Parks Department many times, but nothing happened.”

McClean, district manager of CB 13, said Parks contends they are not responsible when tree roots compromise a household’s pipes..

“The city says that these occurrences are ‘acts of God,’” he said. “But God didn’t plant those trees there, the Parks Department did. If the city is responsible for maintaining these trees, then they should be responsible for any damage done by the tree.”

Not everyone in attendance was happy about the prospect of disturbing the large tree that sits in front of Ahmed’s house on 180th Street. A little girl walked up to Avella and asked, “If you cut the tree down, where will the birds and squirrels live?”

Avella assured the young girl that the tree will remain, but its roots need to be clipped.

“Everyone loves trees,” he said. “We just want them to be planted and maintained responsibly.”

An arborist contacted on the website said clipping roots would not kill a tree if a low percentage of the root is taken with a clean cut made in late summer.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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