NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – For the first time in three weeks, the water is running in Colleen Atwood’s Niagara Falls home, which called for a celebration, “I washed dishes and I took a bubble bath, in my jet tub, for about two hours–I sat there.”
Atwood is 9 months pregnant—she is due May 20–and if not for the generosity of family and friends, she could have been homeless, because without running water, the city condemned the house she is renting.
The single mother is grateful for all the help, “God Bless all my friends in the community,” Atwood said, “who came to help and who actually listened because I was desperate.”
At the time the water was shut off, Colleen’s landlord was Pescrillo New York, LLC, controlled by local businessman Ralph Pescrillo. As News 4 reported in April, Pescrillo threatened occupants of the house with eviction, then went to the Niagara Falls Water Board, and had the water turned off.
But the Water Board re-evaluated its shut off policy, and amended it with some important changes. Now property owners have to get their shutoff requests notarized, and a clause has been added, given the tongue-in-cheek designation, the “Atwood Clause”, to restrict arbitrary disconnections by landlords.
Property owners are now admonished they are “responsible to provide water for any occupied dwelling,” and failure to do so in a violation of Niagara County’s Sanitary Code, according to Water Board Director of Administrative Services Jim Perry, who credited news coverage for the changes.
“What we found out through this process and through these reports, is that there was at least one person, maybe even more, that we did not know about—that were abusing the system.”
Colleen Atwood sued in Niagara Falls City Court to recover damages from what appears to be san illegal shutoff, and is represented by Neighborhood Legal Services attorney Danielle Bruno, “All she wanted was her water turned back, and she did get your water turned back on, with the cooperation of the bank, and we are thankful for that.”
Court was adjourned until June 1. The mortgage holder for the North Avenue property has settled with Atwood, Pescrillo was not in court, and his attorney is trying to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Bruno said the case might set a precedent in Niagara Falls City Court, “the only question before the court is whether or not Mr. Pescrillo should be accountable for the damages in shutting off the water. However, he denies shutting off the water.”
Attorneys in Niagara Falls have said, there are a number of other residents who have been forced out of their homes by water shutoffs, but unless the Niagara Falls Water Board’s shutoff policy is further refined, those tenants might have to go to court, as Atwood did, to get the water turned back on.