Bridgeport homeowner stuck with more than $40,000 in damages after water main break floods house, and city denies damage claim

CHICAGO (CBS) — With any hope, we’re finally moving out of Chicago’s winter, but that just means moving into its other season: construction.

Summer is always busy with projects, and this next story’s about one that happened in Bridgeport last year.

Homeowner Steve Balser told CBS 2 that work by city crews flooded his basement and cost him thousands.

Chicago’s Department of Law denies that, but almost a year later, Balser’s not done fighting.

On a sunny day in May of last year, Chicago Water Department crews started digging up the street next to Balser’s home in Bridgeport.

“It was an improvement to the infrastructure of the neighborhood, so we were in support of it,” he said.

If he only knew then what he knows now.

He estimated he ended up paying $41,000 out of pocket for repairs as a result of flooding.

Balser said the issue started on a Friday night, on a trip to the basement.

“Walked all the way down, and realized that, oh wow, there’s active water coming into the house,” he said.

What started as a trickle turned into several inches of water; forming a glaze over every tile, baseboard, and corner of that space. Balser said they tried to find the source, but couldn’t.

“We realized that it was an issue with the water main, because there was nowhere else the water could be coming from,” he said.

The 24 hours that followed were a flurry of phone calls, as the flooding continued. It was Sunday before city crews came back, and as seen in video filmed by Balser, crews used a backhoe to clear out water from the same area they’d been working in.

“They shut it off, went home, and everything was fine. And at that point the actual flooding inside the home stopped,” he said.

The timing is hard to ignore, and Balser said his homeowner’s insurance agreed. He said they found no source of flooding that they cover, and they told him to look to the city.

Even his contractor for repairs wrote in the quote, “basement was flooded with Cat 2 water from City of Chicago Water Main break.”

He put it all in a City of Chicago Property Damage Claim form.

Balser said the flooding happened between May 14 and 16, 2021. He filed the damage claim with the city on Sept. 20. He said it wasn’t until Feb. 23, 2022, that the city got back to him; asking for his videos, pictures, and receipts. On April 26, the city sent him a rejection Letter, saying after its investigation, the Department of Law “declined the claim.”

“The frustration’s with the city of Chicago, having something that was obviously an improvement that they made, it was a mistake they made that they refuse to admit, and now we are the ones holding the bag for $40,000,” Balser said.

That letter doesn’t state a reason why the claim was denied, and now Balser’s searching for legal help to fight it. He said he used to love living on his corner in Bridgeport, but being blamed for damage that he says he didn’t cause and cost him thousands is enough to make him want to move.

“The city of Chicago gave me my answer, that they don’t want our business here,” he said.

As part of our reporting, we asked the city directly about why they denied Balser’s claim; what the reasoning is.

They would only tell us in a statement they determined the flooding was not a result of the work performed by the Department of Water Management.