Our next door neighbor has been discharging most of her drainage into our yard for years, causing thousands of dollars of damage to our property. We installed rain gardens to keep her runoff from further damaging our home. St. Louis County wants us to get rid of our fixes and be subjected to damage again when the problem originates next door. I’m going to document our steps again as we fight this plus the time I’m spending, so I’m beginning a new log. Where we left off, I had spent 27.81 hours working on our defense.
The county’s position is that our neighbor can alter her property as much as she wants and discharge water as much as she wants, even directly on our driveway. But if we do anything to protect our house, which has major structural damage from her water and will cost more than $10,000 to fix (not including the cracks upstairs), we are in the wrong and have to go to court. Plus we have to let it happen again and again, we cannot prevent it or protect the new driveway we got in 2018. We are looking at 10s of thousands of damages. You are allowed by law to take emergency measures to protect your property, but they don’t think that applies to us for some reason.
If you think this is unfair, I think it would help us out to leave comments at the end of this blog post or contact media outlets you respect with a news tip. Thank you if you can help! Even if you disagree with us your comments will help this site in the search engines.
What follows is a long read, but it’s necessary to log all the information in one place so that people who need background on the situation can get it fast. I’ll keep updating at the end as things progress.
My other main reason for making this log public, is that for years organizations like MSD and Missouri Botanical Garden have been advocating for citizens to install rain gardens to improve local water quality, reduce flooding, and reduce erosion. Our region has suffered greatly from floods for decades, if not millenia because of our natural geology. Rain gardens can help reduce this while protecting and beautifying our own property. I installed a small one at my condo several years ago to protect my neighbor’s air conditioner from the drainpipe that led off my condo’s building. It worked wonderfully well and had the other happy effects of reducing runoff, erosion and silt into Lake Jefferson in Brentwood which suffers from periodic inundation, silting and destructive algae blooms in the summer. Pleased with the results I have written articles on how to do this. But recent experiences have shown me what can happen if you try to do deal with your runoff in an ethical way. If you undergo a campaign of persecution, MOBOT, MSD and other environmentally minded organizations in the region will not help you – you are on your own and have to be your own advocate. So I want other people to see what works and what does not work if they get into this situation, because I in a tiny way might be responsible for some people falling into the same trap my husband and I are in. As a Master Gardener, part of my duty is to pass on what I have learned, and as a professional garden writer I need to inform people about what pitfalls they might fall into if they employ garden techniques that other people don’t like for some reason or don’t understand.
Part 1: The first log explaining the background is here:
Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court
Part 2 Begins Here:
01-14-20 – Received letter saying we have to remove our landscaping along the fence line.
01-15-20 – I sent an email to an official from MSD, the St. Louis County Property Complaints division, and John Geiler of St. Louis County. I left phone messages for John Geiler and Mike Hite (whose name is on the notice of violation letter). I requested a personal meeting with John Geiler so I can tour the property with him and show him the problems. I sent a copy of the letter to my attorney requesting legal assistance. I also sent a link to this update to the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, Stream Teams United, River Des Peres Watershed Coalition, Environment Missouri, Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Great Rivers Greenway.
Time spent as of 01-15-20 – 28.39 hours
Update 01-16-20: Since yesterday, I have been contacted by the St. Louis County inspector, a representative from MSD, and a representative from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Here is an email I sent to the MSD representative and the supervisor of the inspector a few minutes ago. It will fill you in on the situation as of right now.
“Hi, I really appreciate your call yesterday. This letter is being copied to Mike Hite and John Geiler of St. Louis County, and will be published here shortly:
Here, as requested, is what it says in the notice about the exact violation.
“Violation 1 302.2 Grading and Drainage. Health Related. All premises shall be graded and maintained to prevent the erosion of soil and to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water thereon. REMOVE THE LANDSCAPING ALONG YOUR FENCE WHERE THE WATER CAN FLOW AS IT WAS DESIGNED.”
Mike Hite, who is the inspector listed on the notice, called me this morning and let me know that he received my email. In his message he said that people always block the water from the other yard. He assumed we did that, but we did not do that, the water was not blocked but facilitated in the flow from her yard to ours. Just because other people do it, it does not follow that that is what we did.
I don’t know why no one from the county will look at the actual property, look at the pictures I’ve provided or the videos to see the following.
Water was on both sides of the fence before I did anything. Photos are in my first article with dates on them showing this. I can show you on my phone to show when I took the photos and did not fake the dates on the graphic. Here it is:
The flow of water from her property to ours probably worked fine in the 1950s when these homes were built. Here is what happened. Over the years, lawns on both sides got mowed over and over, but you can’t mow the actual fence line. Over the years, plant roots and organic matter build up along the fence, creating a high spot along the fence line. This trapped water on her side. At the same time, repeated inundations of water in both yards, and nothing planted in the yards in the affected area except turfgrass, caused the soil to be compacted in the areas that collect water. Turfgrass is not a very permeable surface especially if maintained for decades in a way that depletes the soil. So the problem the county says we caused was pre-existing.
Over the years, apparently more of her yard was paved causing runoff to have to be dumped into a smaller area of soil than the drainage was originally designed for, exacerbating the problem further. I can’t return the property to the original configuration it was designed in because the property next to us (7409 Rockwood Dr) already altered the dynamic decades ago causing much damage to the soil and altering the original drainage forever. When these houses were built they did not design the situation to still be sustainable 70 years later. We know a lot more about landscaping and how it affects water and soil than we did in 1954. Even if I could return the landscaping in both yards to it’s 1950s state, the problem would occur again over time. My landscaping is designed to be sustainable because I’ve used the knowledge we now have in the 21st century to make it so.
When I first built the raised bed along the fence line, the neighbor thought it was ugly so she complained that it was trapping water on her side. I don’t know if that was true or not since water was already trapped on her side before I did anything. Nevertheless, I knew that was not a desirable outcome and having no inclination to damage her already unattractive yard and feeble turfgrass further I took steps to make sure that does not happen. I removed the bricks in the low spot, removed the bricks along the back edge of the bed (solely because she told me she thought they were ugly, I replaced them with fine black mesh that is less visible and also more permeable just in case), made my collection area on our side larger and lower than her side, and now her yard drains completely. That is not all I did, you have a full list from my previous article, but those are the major things.
Her yard didn’t drain completely BEFORE we changed anything. I have checked it after each and every rain (other than when we were in Yellowstone last summer) to make sure (edit after sending) it does now. We IMPROVED the existing problem rather than causing it as we have been accused of doing.
Here is a link to an image that has been available to the county since July 2019.
Mike said in his phone message to me that he could not find one of the drainage pipes that is closer than 10 feet when he came to our property. I question whether the inspectors actually get out of their trucks to look because I witnessed one in May (the 2nd) doing an inspection without even stopping the truck all the way. This diagram shows clearly where to look for the pipes. I actually left one off when I made this diagram – there is one more at the north edge of the carport that I didn’t notice when I made this. Yes it’s hard to see everything at first glance, but it’s my opinion that if you are citing someone for a violation that has already been dropped in the court once, shouldn’t you be certain about these things? There is a real economic cost to me having to spend time fighting this over and over when it has been fixed since May 4. I’m partially self-employed and when I’m working on this I’m not earning money. I have plenty of proof in photo and video. I am willing to show it to a judge if that’s what it takes. Why can’t the inspectors look at the actual evidence when it’s been provided over and over again? That’s the part I can’t understand.
Here is the second pipe that is closer than 10 feet from our property (right photo).
This image was provided to the county in August 2019. The tape measure is shown extended to 10 feet. The pipe has not moved since I took this picture. I don’t understand why the inspector could not see it. You are welcome to come and measure it, don’t take my word for it. Are you not allowed to walk beyond the gate? That I understand. There is no lock on it, but if you are not allowed to go beyond that explains this whole mess. Please make an appointment with me and I’ll show you everything in person. This offer of a tour has been on the table since August 2019.
I also offered soil, fertilizer and grass seed to the neighbor at NO COST to repair the water damaged spot in her yard. I would even install it for free if she wanted me to. We did not cause the damage, it was caused by outdated landscape management practices that are harmful to the soil quality over time. But it’s in both of our best interests to improve the appearance of her lawn and if she believes we caused it I’m happy to fix it. I physically extended with my actual arm an actual bag of grass seed that I bought for her and showed her a pile of soil that we ordered from St. Louis Compost and offered her a share of it to revive her grass. The grass seed I offered her has roots up to four feet long which will help greatly in reducing her soil compaction and helping it absorb water. You cannot buy this grass seed in big box stores. She turned me down flat. The grass on our side of the fence is fine, even in the spots that flood all the time. It’s good enough that a client of mine bought plugs of it from me last summer. I’d love to tell this all to a judge, believe me, so I have no fear of being taken to court again. If you think that is a threat to me (the phone call made sure to include that), after reading the above I’m sure you can understand why it is not.
Thank you for your time.”
Time spent as of 01-16-20 – 30.25 hours
I have not heard from anyone except MSD since my last update. Here is copy of a letter I have just sent to John Geiler of St. Louis County who supervises the inspectors.
“Hi, I’ve attached a photo that I took this morning. With the water frozen, it’s easier to see where the wet spots are. You can see where the fence is. The top portion is our neighbor’s yard. The bottom portion is ours. This is the low spot in our backyards where water flows from one yard to another. As you can see, we are not trapping water in her yard.
I have sent emails to both Mike Hite and John Geiler. I spoke to Mike on the phone this morning. His attitude is clear. He is not interested in looking at any of my evidence and does not feel he has to actually understand the case before taking my husband to court. Eventually I will put more of my evidence here when I have time and keep track of my hours that I have spent the last few days but he make it clear he will not look at any more so I will not bother to send any more. He made it clear that 8 months is not enough time to read an email or look at a two and half minute video. He said he can’t look at videos because they might have viruses but he refused to look at it on my phone, plus it’s on YouTube so he knows it won’t have a virus anyway.
So, I guess we’re headed to court no matter what we do because we are clearly being set up to fail. I hope the judge has a better understanding of the case than the inspectors are willing to have.
Ok, a friend of mine in the real estate business has advised me to print out every email I have sent the county, and I’m going to do that when we go to court. In the meantime the emails will all go here also. I’m going to be writing to a lot of people and they will need to see all the letters in one place. I will list the date of each one, and what the response was, if there was a response.
On February 20, Michael Hite came to the property at 7409 Rockwood. From my desk at 7405 Rockwood, I could see him. I have been wanting to talk to someone from the County in person since May of 2019, but before this they have always come on days when I’m not here. Before February 20, the only exception was May 2, 2019, the day before we got our first notice from the county. A county truck came by but did not stop all the way. When they saw I was there they hit the gas and sped off. I don’t know who the driver was, but I remember it being a woman.
On February 20 I came out and greeted Mike and offered to show him around and explain what is going on and discuss how to fix it. He was not interested in anything more than a cursory look. He would not listen to the questions or comments I had. I offered to show him video on my phone of what I was talking about. He would not look at it. I invited him to come inside and look at the video on my computer. He declined. He asked me to send him videos and pictures by email. He said not more than five or so. I said ok.
Here is what I sent him that day, recreating the best I can.
Video – They were .MOV files on Thursday. I have put them on You Tube today so everyone can see them.
The above two photos of the ice on our driveway are to show that Diane Broy at 7409 Rockwood Drive, St. Louis MO 63123 is continuing to discharge water onto our driveway in violation of St. Louis County law. Her pipe is closer than the 10 feet allowed, it is four feet. We had to have our driveway replaced in 2018 because of years of this discharge undermining the soil and causing cracks with all the freeze thaw cycles. This is also where I park and as you can see it’s a hazard to walk in our own driveway because of her. I reported this in July 2019. I pointed it out again to Mike on February 20, 2020 and sent him these pictures on February 20, 2020. The ice pictures were taken on January 19, 2020.
Those are the image and videos I sent to Mike while he was running away from me that I could not get him to look at on my phone while we were both standing there. One bit of information I did manage to get from his was the following. I asked him about the complaint that we were trapping water on her side of the fence and how he could see while we were standing there that the water was all on our side. Mike said he had video of water on her side of the fence from an earlier visit that he took during a rain. So I said the standard we have to meet then is no water can be on her side WHILE IT’S RAINING? How are we supposed to do that when it originates on her side?
After Mike left, this was my follow up email on February 20.
“It did not flow freely BEFORE I did anything because there was already a raised area along the fence line due to mowing on either side of it for more than 50 years and organic matter building up along fence line. If we have to make sure there is no water on her side WHILE it’s raining then that is something we cannot fix no matter what we do because her yard has poor drainage. The problem is on HER side.”
That is the end of my communication with Mike on February 20, 2020. You will notice that I am sending the same content over and over. That’s because people from the County keep claiming not to have it. The content in the last email I sent on February 20, 2020 has been in Mike’s possession since July 30, 2019 and has been public on this blog since July 30, 2019. (See it here: Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me to Court) This is the same evidence Mike looked at in court on July 30, 2019 and used it to dismiss the charges against us.
On February 20, 2020, Mike claimed not have this information. He asked me to send it again (you’ll read later on February 24 he criticized me for sending too many emails). I have asked him why in eight months he could not view it. I asked him why he did not remember looking at it with us on court in July 30 2019. He said he didn’t understand the case. He said he could not look at videos because they might have viruses. It can’t have viruses if it’s on YouTube, but okay fine. When he was here on Thursday February 20 I suggested looking at it on my phone or my computer. He refused and left.
I have to end this for now and get some actual work done, you’ll hear more about what happened on Monday, February 24 and why I’m resigned to going to court again. There isn’t going to be any way out of it so I’m going to thoroughly document the process here so it will all be in one place when it’s time.
Hours spent so far on our defense: 36.83
On Sunday, February 23, I went out to work on the garden and see what could be done to draw more water over to our side of the fence since Mike told us we have to draw all the water over from her yard even while it’s raining. Knowing that is not possible, since he told me to do it I thought I’d at least show we tried so that when we are in court I can show I am not just ignoring the problem. I made the bio-swales on our side bigger, and planted additional Louisiana Iris and Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). Those are hardy perennials that tolerate wet periods. Only the Iris is going to be visible right now because the Blue Mistflower dies down to the ground in winter and is not quick to get started in the spring. But it’s native and beautiful and very well suited to this purpose so worth the wait.
Monday morning the 24th it was raining and out of curiosity I went to see how the wet areas were performing. There was no visible water on her side even DURING the rain which I did not think was really possible. I thought Mike and his boss would like to see this.
I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 8:18 am.
“Inspector Mike told us that even though the water originates on our neighbor’s side of the fence, it’s not good enough that the water drains completely into our yard after the rain is over, it has to be completely on our side even WHEN it is raining. Sounds impossible, so it makes me wonder what is really going on, but we gave it a try anyway and it looks like we succeeded, I took this photo a few minutes ago during actual rain.
Our side (7405) is on the right. Note water on right side, not the left (7409). Is this good enough?”
At 8:14 John responded and copied his reply to Mike.
“As long as there is nothing in your back yard that alters the natural flow of water from the uphill properties to the storm water inlet at the bottom of the hill. That is the natural swale and cannot be altered according to the ordinance. Any alterations would have to be approved by the Zoning Department with a request for a variance.
I replied asking if he could call me to tell me exactly what this means. I have made the water flow better since I started my garden, but his directive is vague enough that I wanted to clarify exactly what I need to do. Obviously he was available so all it would take is one phone call from him to find out exactly what we are supposed to do and get this whole thing over with. I was hopeful that it was finally going to be over.
The phone rang and I was happy to be able to get some clear information finally. But it was Mike berating me for sending the email, and telling me he would not look at it and told me not to send any more.
So clearly we are being set up to fail and we have no choice but to go on the offensive and pursue what legal remedies are possible. That’s what I’m working on next.
I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 3:01 pm.
“Ok I know you guys are not interested in any information from me, but you might be interested in a solution.
Thanks for the e-mail, I did read it. I will be in contact with neighbor to discuss the matter further. If you would like to talk to your neighbor that would help also.
“Thank you for your reply. I don’t believe talking to her will resolve anything. If she approaches me I will not turn her away but I knew after last July that talking to her was useless. You know how she likes to call you on the only day of the week that we are normally both gone? She must not want me to talk to you like I did last Thursday. If she really wanted to resolve this in a reasonable way she would want me to talk to you and not try to have you come only when we’re not here. I want to talk to you but you aren’t interested in talking to me. Neither is your boss. I have written to my County Council representative, the County Executive and several media outlets. I don’t know how many of those will care. I don’t have many options open to me. I’m proceeding with the options that are open to me on the advice of my attorney.
I have fixed everything she asked me to fix. I had the drainage problem (if there ever was one, which I’m skeptical about) fixed by sundown on May 4, 2019. I don’t know why she wants to keep harassing us. I don’t know why you go along with it. I didn’t know either of you before this started. I can’t see how I have wronged either of you in any way in the past but you are both determined to harass me and my husband. I know why she hates my husband (her friend sued him), but I never talked to her in my life until I went over to talk to her on May 4 to ask her why she called you and to see if we could work something out. She refused every one of my suggestions so I just changed the specific things she mentioned and tried to leave her alone. I’m out in the backyard pretty often and she’s rarely out there. If we are both out there at the same time I used to smile and say Hi but I’m done with that, now I just turn my back and go about my business. There is nothing I can do to make her happy since the source of the excess water is on her side. I have done almost everything I can do. Based on advice from my attorney, I’m doing what is left available to me. It will take time to go through all the steps. Whatever you do to us in the future I will react to in a way so as to defend us against further financial damage. We are already thousands in the hole from her excess water. My goal is to prevent further financial damage and I will do whatever is necessary and also ethical and legal to defend ourselves. We didn’t start this but if necessary I will finish it.”
Update February 27, 2020
On February 25, at 10:59 am I sent this email to email@example.com
“I live at 7405 Rockwood Drive, St. Louis MO, 63123. Our neighbor, Diane Broy at 7409 Rockwood has been discharging water onto our driveway. We have already had to have the driveway replaced in 2018. She is still running water over our driveway. When it freezes it’s a hazard and we don’t want our new driveway to get ruined, it was expensive. Thank you for your time.”
Replay from firstname.lastname@example.org at 3:41 pm on February 26.
“ENTERED FOR AN INSPECTOR TO INVESTIGATE
On February 25 at 11:10 am, I sent a message to the 5th District St. Louis County Representative, Lisa Clancy. I got a response from Legislative Assistant Carter Gibson at February 26 at 10:35 am. My message follows.
“Our neighbor is discharging excess water onto our property in several places and we keep getting harassed by the county inspectors for having water. Instead of getting her to divert her water, they blame us. We are about to have to go to court for the second time. Even though the charges against us were dismissed the first time, they want to bring them again but our neighbor has not changed anything. I don’t understand why this is happening and I’m reaching out to anyone who might be interested in looking at it. The supervisor of the the inspectors, John Geiler is not interested and will not respond to my inquiries.
Carter Gibson responded that he would contact the Problem Properties division and let me know the verdict. I sent him a link to this blog log so they all have the current, updated information.
A friend of mine who is in the real estate business prepared this image for me of 7409 and 7405 Rockwood with notations she made. She has given me permission to post it and her anonymous comments follow.
“Here is a satellite view of the home at 7409 Rockwood, St. Louis, MO 63123. This screen shot is from Google Maps. On the lower right corner of the picture note the map data date as being the year 2020 as well as the date and time of the screen shot.
I have added a text box and red arrows indicating all areas paved over.
Note the lack of natural ground surface to absorb water. It appears that at least 80 percent of the entire lot is paved over, offering very little vegetation or natural soil. There is very little grassy area, as opposed to the connecting properties, to absorb water. It’s not surprising that water run-off could leak to surrounding properties.
Also attached is a property sketch from the records of the St. Louis County Department of Revenue on Feb 22, 2020. The property sketch does not indicate the detatched garage in the rear portion of the property which is pictured in a photo from it’s listing in the multiple listing service when entered into the MLS on Aug. 29, 2000 through it’s sale date of Nov. 06, 2000. See attached picture. The tax records also do not indicate what appears to be a storage shed or other out-building of some sort, located next to the garage.
***The property sketch from the Department of Revenue is also depicted incorrectly. Areas ‘A’ and ’C’ are incorrectly labeled compared to the
legend below the sketch.”
My comments on the images above – the supervisor of the inspectors, John Geiler, won’t say anything to me except I can’t block the flow of water from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill. I haven’t done that. My neighbor at 7409 has. As you can see the house did not originally have a garage or most of the yard paved. Why are we being repeatedly accused, since May, of doing what someone else did and cited for it and taken to court? I can’t get an answer from anyone. I have been trying to find out what is going on since May 2019. Obviously I am missing some vital information and I’m doing as much investigating as I can. As you can see this information is from St. Louis County. Why can’t they look at their own data in 9 months? Are they confused about which house they are talking about? Why do we have to waste hours and hours of time when they could just look at their own data or look at what I send them?
I sent the above diagram to Michael Hite and John Geiler on Februay 27, at 9:30 am. My understanding is they will not look at it but I want the judge to know I tried.
Time spent on our defense since May 2019: 40.35 hours
Update March 9, 2020
I received this email on Friday, March 6.
“Dear Ms. Hasenfratz,
As a result of your inquiry to the County Executive, I asked that your case be reviewed again from a different perspective. The Department of Public Works sent a new inspector from a different division to visit the property and review the findings. The new inspector seems to have reached the same conclusion. Essentially, the raised flower bed is blocking the flow of water at the property line and the cut made in the bed is not adequate resulting in the backing up of water onto your neighbor’s lot.
Just to reiterate from my previous note, the inspectors are tasked with enforcing St. Louis County ordinances. The County Executive’s office does not have the ability to overturn decisions from inspectors on various citations of the ordinances. I am sorry I do not have better news and was not able to provide the results you seek. Unfortunately, the Court may be the best place to resolve this dispute.
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive
I sent this email in reply on Saturday.
“Are Tom (my husband) and I allowed to meet with the inspector in person and go over all the evidence with him or her and discuss solutions since the problem existed before we did anything and the law says we are allowed to take emergency measures to protect our property. We can prove our foundation and house are crumbling because of the excess water from our neighbor. I would also like to know if our neighbor has to stop her discharge?
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”
Time spent on our defense since May 2019: 40.85 hours
Update March 10, 2020
Email reply from Matt McLaughlin on March 10.
“I am inclined to think there will not be a change of heart from the inspectors at Public Works regardless of further meetings and discussions. Again, I do believe the Court may be the inevitable result of this impasse. That said, you are welcome to request a meeting directly to the department if you think it would help. I would be happy to provide contact information. I am sorry for how difficult this situation is for you and your husband.
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive”
My reply to Matt on March 10:
“Yes please help us set up a meeting. I have been wanting a meeting since last August and they keep refusing. I very much doubt that they really sent another inspector like they told you. There has been no water on the neighbor’s side of the fence at least since May 4 2019, and to claim we are blocking and causing water on her side is false and they can’t have viewed the same thing we are viewing and come up with that conclusion. I don’t understand what is going on but we want to meet with them please. If everything was on the up and up they would not refuse to meet, refuse to talk to me on the phone and then when I see them here in person run away, then ask me to send an email to shut me up, then call me a few days later to tell me not to send emails and if I do they won’t look at them. Something weird is going on. It makes no sense.
They are not behaving the way people behave when they know they are doing the right thing – they are behaving the way people behave when they know they are doing the wrong thing. Did they send you any evidence that they actually did an inspection? Also, if their department is not accountable to the county executive, who are they accountable to? The county council?
Please set up a meeting and thank you.”
Time spent on our defense since May 2019: 41.71 hours
I have uploaded a couple of new videos today. One was taken on March 12, 2020 and the other was taken on March 14, 2020. I mistakenly said in my audio commentary that it was March 12 in the March 14 video. (I guess I hadn’t had enough coffee yet…)
Here is the March 12 video:
My description for the above March 12 video reads: “It appears to me as though the inspectors are trying to protect our neighbor, who is discharging all her rainwater into our yard and causing structural damage to our driveway, foundation and basement. They like to come and inspect while it is raining, so they can say we are trapping rainwater on her side of the fence and to make it look like we are doing something wrong. Her property is uphill from us and the water comes from her side, and we have made it drain better for her. By law we are allowed to take emergency measures to protect our property and even if it was not an emergency we are not breaking any laws, I have read them. We have not impeded the flow of water, we have made it flow better than it did before we started.
There is adequate evidence on that site, both photo and video to prove the problem originates on her side. Yet the county harasses us and appears to be working for her. I don’t understand why that is the case and I am currently in contact with someone at the County Executive’s office. I don’t know how far that line of inquiry is going to lead, but I’m going to keep going up the ladder until someone will agree to look at the evidence. The inspector and the supervisor of the inspectors will not look at it and have instructed me not to send them any emails. They dodge my phone calls. When an inspector came at a time I was home (for the first time in almost a year) when I came out to try to talk to him he would not answer my questions, ran away, told me to send and email, then when I tried to follow up about the contents of the email a few days later, he berated me for sending it and informed me he would not look at any more.
I don’t know why the county is deliberately trying to railroad us, but so far all the evidence I have points to that. If anyone knows anyone in the media who would be interested in investigating please forward this to them.”
And here is the March 14 video:
My description for the above March 14 video reads: “Drainage pipes are supposed to be 10 ft. away from the the property line. I have reported that our neighbor has one four feet away and it is discharging over our driveway. We had to get this driveway replaced in 2018 because the water flow undermined the soil under it and caused a lot of cracks. We are trying to prevent our new driveway from being ruined. I have reported this to St. Louis County formally in August 2019 and February 2020.
Instead of getting her to change it, the county is taking us to court for the measures we have taken to prevent damage to our home from our neighbor’s excess runoff. They blame us for having water when the water comes from her yard. They appear to be working for her and against us, even though she is the one in violation of the law. I don’t know why they are doing this and I am doing as much of my own investigating as I can.
If you know anyone in the media who would be interested in investigating please forward this video to them. Thank you!”
Time spent on our defense since May 2019: 42.5 hours
I sent this message to the county property complaints division this morning:
“Hi, our neighbor at 7409 Rockwood Dr. 63123 has been discharging water onto our driveway and I’ve reported it twice, in August and February. She is still doing it. Here is a video I took on Saturday.
This is a YouTube link, safe to look at:
Is there anything you can do to help us? Thank you for your time.”
This is the reply:
It looks like the owner of this property is in correspondence with an inspector. The inspector issued an extension and they have until mid-April to comply.
So – it looks like things are finally turning in a better direction. What will happen? Stay tuned!
Time spent on our defense since May 2019: 43.6 hours
Recieved to my email on March 17, 2020:
“I have sent your messages to Public Works. I will let you know their response. Just so you know, I have been working long hours dealing with the coronavirus health emergency so much of my constituent cases have been delayed.
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive”
My response on March 17, 2020:
“Thank you, the crisis didn’t stop them from coming here though to try to trap us (last Thursday, on video) so I can’t just forget about it. Our basement is in dire straits. You’d think they’d have more important things to deal with right now like you do. I understand what you are dealing with. Thank you for your time!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”
Recieved to my email on March 27, 2020:
“Good morning Mrs. Winkelmann,
Please e-mail in two weeks when it might be safer to meet in person. Also please note that your neighbor is working on removing the ‘drain pipe’ that is pointed at your driveway.
St. Louis County Building Inspector”
I sent in response on March 27, 2020:
“Great! My husband is working nights now too so he’ll be able to be there too. Thank you very much, I’ll keep that in mind. I’m healthy so far, I hope you and yours are too.
In the meantime, have you read and understand the entire situation? Here are the two blog posts to read to know all the background. Two weeks or so should be plenty of time to read them. If you have any questions as you read please email them to me and I’ll be happy to respond. I can also do a conference call or video conference where I can read it to you paragraph by paragraph and you can respond in real time if necessary.
Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court
St. Louis County Harassing Us Again
The most important things to notice as you read I think are the additions to the house next door AFTER it was built and the presence of water and where it collected in both yards BEFORE I modified anything to try to save our house foundation. Please also note the condition of our basement and the cracks on the main floor resulting from the water damage moving the foundation. When you come over you are welcome to see all the cracks in the house in person, upstairs and downstairs.
Mike I’ll add that if you have any worry about looking at my blog on a work computer, I will show it to you on my computer and read it to you paragraph by paragraph and you can stop me if you have any questions as we go. If you are afraid to look at YouTube videos on your own computer I can show them to you on mine.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”
Inspector Michael Hite paid a surprise visit today. We had a cordial and productive discussion about the changes we had made and are making. He said they were sufficient as long as I did not allow mosquito larvae to grow. I showed him the bottle of BTI I keep in the garage and he took a picture of it. He said I should not expect any more trouble unless there is a complaint about mosquito larvae which is not going to happen because I inspect daily and apply BTI regularly (at least every couple of weeks). A perfectly reasonable request which I would abide by anyway without being asked. I still have a small water garden on the deck at my condo which I treat with BTI regularly and have been for years. It’s the right thing to do and it’s not wrong for the County to make sure we’re doing it. He said if there ever is a complaint they will communicate with us and not just send us straight to court without an attempt at resolving it. The status of the neighbor’s illegal pipe discharging on our driveway currently is that she has been given another extension because she has to hire someone to do it and with the virus situation that takes time. That I also find reasonable. It would have been fixed last year if she had accepted my offer to fix it for no charge, but she turned me down so that is where we are. I’m just glad to be able to enjoy our garden now and go ahead on our planned improvements that were halted on May 3, 2019 when the County first came after us. It took just four days short of a year to establish productive two-way communication with the St. Louis County inspector. Who would have ever thought it would take that long? Even I, who admittedly have very low expectations of government standards of performance, did not expect it to take that long.
Anyone out there who finds themselves in a situation like what we just had, here is what I recommend, keeping in mind that I’m not an attorney and not qualified to give legal advice. I’m just relaying what worked for me.
- Research the applicable laws before you start work and make sure you’re staying within them.
- If you have done that and are still being harassed unfairly, log and save all communications. Get everything in writing that you possibly can.
- Keep detailed records and take a lot of pictures and videos with verifiable dates.
- If it’s legal to do so where you live, install a video surveillance system that allows you to record incidents and save the videos for later publication if needed. I used the Ring system and so far I am thrilled with the capabilities. Based on my detailed timeline, it seems that video was what made the situation start to turn around for us. If I had known how this would go I would have installed it sooner.
- Get guidance from your attorney if you think it is warranted.
13 thoughts on “St. Louis County Harassing Us Again”
Why does the County not have time to stop and look or to read emails if that is what we pay them to do? They should publish a record of how they spend their time for a week.
Good question. I have witnessed an “inspection” on May second that consisted of the truck slowing down slightly then speeding off when they saw I was outside.
Nice job on controlling the water without harm. You can work on my yard any time.
Thanks a lot! When you feel like you are fighting the world, support from your loved ones keeps you going! You taught me to try to negotiate a solution to problems that was ethical and fair to both parties. I’m trying to do that but getting nowhere fast.
Dad, I also witnessed your example in working out things with neighbors. I remember watching you ask a neighbor to change something and offering to pay for it because it’s something you want done, not them. Diane just went straight to calling the county. She didn’t talk to us first. I had never even met her.
The day after we got our first notice, I went over to her house and introduced myself. I asked her what she thought was wrong. She said she didn’t like the wet spot in the grass. I said fair enough (even though it had been there before and was caused by modifications to her house that caused bad drainage). I said I’ll make sure there is no more blockage so it doesn’t happen again and if you want to fix that spot I will give you dirt, fertilizer and seed to repair the grass at no charge, and if you want me to install it I will. She said no, that wasn’t good enough and she was going to keep calling until we got rid of the whole raised bed. I said I’m not doing that because it will not solve the problem you have so there is no point to it. She said actually I called because the back side of the bed looks ugly from my side. I said ok that I can do something about. I have since changed the bricks along the back with black mesh that is invisible from her side.
I pointed out to her that her pipe discharging onto our driveway was something we could have sued her for but we had decided not to because we thought it was more important to have good relationships with neighbors. She said I don’t have to change it and I’m not going to. I said if I did the work would you let me do it at no charge to you? What we are more interested in than getting compensation for the old driveway is preventing damage to the new one. She said I can make drawings if I want but she will not change anything.
There is a lot more to tell in between, I did make another attempt at mutual cooperation. I actually bought her a bag of specially selected grass seed as a gesture of good faith but she refused it.
While Tom and I were on our honeymoon last summer and too far away to defend ourselves she called the county again and we came home from our honeymoon to another citation before we had even had our first court date yet. That’s when I gave up trying to communicate or cooperate with the neighbor. So Dad I tried to do it your way, it just didn’t work.
Carolyn – it certainly appears you have been a caring and conscientious neighbor, working and researching well to implement a proper solution, only to fall upon completely deaf ears. I’m so sorry you have to go through this, when you have done your due diligence, and others have not.
I certainly wish you could assist me with issues in my yard!
I hope that you achieve a successful resolution soon. No one who is trying to do such a great job to in resolving an issue should have to go through what you are! You should not be made to feel this way in your own home, when you’re trying to solve a problem you did not create.
Jennifer, emotional support means a lot to us at this stressful time, thank you very much!
I know I’ve already said this but I’m putting it here…I can’t figure out WHY the neighbor and county are coming after you if the problem originates in the neighbor’s yard…with all that paving in her backyard, it’s not wonder there’s a drainage issue. When I mowed your yard several times many years ago (going back as far as 2008) I saw the the neighbor’s yard as being a potential problem. She may have inherited the problem when she bought the house but it still her responsibility. If anyone ought to be harassed by the county it ought to be the neighbor. She’s deliberately causing a problem and doesn’t care by simply directing her downspout extension at your driveway. I’ve had my own drainage issue (underground) which I inherited and still was responsible for it. I felt bad for the problem it caused my neighbor and he gave me hell about it….and that was just a wet driveway, nothing else. We fixed the problem and wish to remain on good terms with our neighbors. Some people just don’t care. For St. Louis County Inspectors to continuously come at you without actually investigating the matter is not due diligence on their part, it showing preferential treatment, they are acting in the position of a neutral party as they should and their refusal to view any evidence of attempted correcting of the situation is just plain negligence on the part of St. Louis County.
The county’s behavior is a lot more baffling than the neighbor’s, though both are strange. Some possible explanations for the way the county is treating us have occurred to me.
The neighbor is paying someone off
The neighbor has influence some other way (knows someone, sexual favors, etc.)
The county is looking for new revenue streams so they set people up so they can be fined
The inspectors and supervisors of inspectors just don’t care enough to do their job or make sure the workers under them do their jobs.
I or my husband pissed someone off who has influence and we don’t know what we did or who it is.
A developer wants to buy our house and is paying people to harass us (this seems the most unlikely of all because there are dozens and dozens of homes just like ours in the neighborhood and some of them are for sale – our house is very plain and unremarkable.) Does anyone else have any theories?
Those are some theories. I have no proof that any of them is true – just some things I think are possibilities. It could be one of these reasons or none of them.
It’s so frustrating when different parts of the same government work at cross purposes – https://igin.com/article-3237-Rainscape-Incentives-for-St-Louis-County.html