By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- A Front Royal resident's woes with her home exposed a town-wide problem for older buildings.
Town Council may have found a way to fix Rebecca Sinclair's situation but the solution could open Front Royal up to more homes with a similar problem.
Sinclair, 67, bought one of the units in a duplex at 409 Virginia Ave. in October 2003. A home inspector hired to look at the house, built in 1937, gave Sinclair a "thumbs up" on the property, including the plumbing, she recalled Thursday. Sinclair didn't learn until last year that one water meter serves both duplex units. The town requires a meter for each residential unit.
In February 2013, the town cut off the water to the building because her neighbors didn't pay their bill, Sinclair said.
"I said 'but I pay my bill,'" Sinclair said.
Sinclair recalled that she received no help from the town to fix the situation.
"I tried everything that I know of," Sinclair said.
Once the town turned her water back on temporarily, Sinclair again sought help but to no avail. She was told at one point she should hire an attorney. Eventually she received a letter from the town indicating that the meter should have been separated for the two units in 2003. Sinclair later learned that the unit next door has control of the water to hers. Sinclair has control of the sewer service.
The homeowner claimed the town and the real estate agent knew then that the building had one meter for two units.
"Everyone knew it except me and I found out when they shut it off," Sinclair said.
Town officials then gave Sinclair a year to have the meter separated at her expense. Sinclair said she couldn't afford to pay the cost to separate the meter. The town has shut off the water a few times since then, she said. Town Council took up Sinclair's situation a few weeks ago shortly after the town shut off her water.
Sinclair said she had planned to sell her house but could not because the town shut off the water. Sinclair said she wouldn't try to sell the house without informing a buyer about the situation with the water meter.
At a recent council meeting, Sinclair jotted down a memo to members stating that "I am 67 and on a fixed income also. This whole affair has been unfair to me."
Mayor Timothy Darr and other council members continued their discussions this week on how the town may help Sinclair. Council learned that Sinclair is not alone. Town Manager Steve Burke told council Monday that staff has identified 30 other properties in similar situations.
Councilman Bret Hrbek expressed concern that the town might charge property owners to fix a mistake overlooked by Front Royal officials years ago. Darr concurred with Hrbek.
"I think we need to correct the issue," Darr said. "If the lady had been made aware of this 13 or 14 years ago when she bought the place, I'd have a different perspective. She bought it and we, the town, didn't catch it either."
Town staff members have suggested that council grant a special exemption to the requirement and allow a single connection to serve water meters at 409 and 411 Virginia Ave. The town would install the meters and the owner of 409 Virginia Ave. would connect to the service via the new meter.
Separate water meters also would allow the town to collect payments from both residences.
Town staff also suggested that council accept a lien for $14,090 against the property at 409 Virginia Ave. in favor of Front Royal securing payment of water and sewer connection fees in lieu of paying for the services at the time of connection.
Then the town would notify owners of all known properties served by single meters that don't comply with the requirement. For three years, staff would work with the owners to bring the properties into compliance.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org