Rochester Hills Family Still in Hotel after Hamlin Road Project

Hamlin Road Project not over for one Rochester Hills Family

The Hamlin Road project inconvenienced many Rochester Hills residents. Now, the road is open and new again, and most have forgotten about that nuisance and have moved on – except one family.

Sewage water flowing down from 1st floor, staining beams and ceiling in the process

Sewage water flowing down from 1st floor, staining beams and ceiling in the process

The Penberthy family conducts their lives from a hotel room. Philip and Mary, their son and their dog, have been in a local hotel since early August. A sewer backup, a water main flood, and another sewer backup was the catalyst that created a huge mess.

The soggy mess, which left sewer water dripping from the floorboards, is the visual disaster. The real mess is now the court proceedings, allegations, and legal battles. The Penberthys and their attorney, H. Adam Cohen, hold the City of Rochester Hills liable.

Before the Flood

The Penberthy Kitchen Before the Damage

The Penberthy Kitchen Before the Damage

Two property owners off Hamlin Road contested the taking of part of their land through eminent domain. The Penberthy family was one of those with whom the City of Rochester Hills could not reach an agreement. This made “it necessary for the city to initiate condemnation court proceedings in order to acquire the necessary right of way through eminent domain,” said city attorney John D. Staran. “Upon filing the condemnation proceedings, the City paid $8,100 to the Penberthys as estimated just compensation, which was based on an appraisal done by an independent, certified real estate appraisal.”

That was in May.

Gas Line work Sparked the Sewer Problems

Mary and Philip Penberthy stand in their Kitchen after the Damage - photo by Michael Dwyer

Mary and Philip Penberthy stand in their Kitchen after the Damage – photo by Michael Dwyer

On June 29, Consumers Energy contractors accidentally cut the sewer line from the Penberthy home to the public sewer main. Consumers Energy was taking advantage of the Hamlin Road closure to replace the main gas line that runs parallel to Hamlin Road.

According to the family, sewer water back-flowed into the house from upstairs and downstairs drains causing damage and loss to the home and personal belongings. “At no time did any sewage from the municipal sewer system back up or enter the Penberthy’s home,” said Staran, what “came out of their own sewer lead” was “generated from their own residence, bathtub and washing machine.” Still, raw sewage was entering the home.

Aftermath of storage area flooded

Aftermath of storage area flooded

A month later on July 29, a completely separate issue surfaced when a nearby water main was struck, by a different contractor, and flooded the ditches. The contractor pumped out the ditches and some of the water drained down the Penberthy driveway and into their garage, which was housing salvaged belongings from the previous issue.

Still in dispute seems to be the lack of properly marking the water and sewer lines prior to the accident. Mary Penberthy said a company came out the day after the incident occurred to mark the lines – one day too late. She suggests the contractors blame failure of marking the lines puts some of the fault on the city.

The family’s attorney filed a temporary restraining order, which halted road construction. This lead to an agreement between the family and the city, for the most part providing them with accommodations and storage facilities paid for by the city until the family can return to their home. This agreement allowed the roadwork to continue.

Who’s at Fault?

Flooded Driveway after water main was Struck

Flooded Driveway after water main was Struck

With several entities in the mix – the City of Rochester Hills, Consumers Energy, several contractors and all the respective insurers – it’s difficult to put blame and responsibility in one direction.

The Penberthy’s attorney, H. Adam Cohen, has piled on all these issues to the original eminent domain case insisting the City of Rochester Hills is liable, in part because the Hamlin Road project was their project, and they should coordinate and fund the efforts to remedy the situation. On November 2, the Circuit Court denied the attempt to force the city to pay and stated that they failed to present the court “with any legal authority to support the relief requested.”

Buckets used to catch sewage water raining down from 1st floor

Buckets used to catch sewage water raining down from 1st floor

City attorney, John D. Staran, says the answer is to go after the responsible contractors. In addition, Staran says, “the City has reached out, several times, to the Penberthys, through their representatives, in an attempt to agree upon as least a partial settlement.” The city would then seek reimbursement from the contractors, insurers and other parties; and allow the family to restore and return to their home.

The city offered the full estimate, retained by an adjuster and an expert contractor, “to restore the house to pre-incident condition,” said Staran. The Penberthy’s representatives, according to Staran, have counter offered with a much larger amount.

Where are we now?

The City of Rochester Hills fully understands that the Penberthy’s have had a series of unfortunate events – none of which is the family’s fault – to leave them victims.

An early snow didn't slow the community coming together to help the Penberthy Family - photo by Michael Dwyer

An early snow didn’t slow the community coming together to help the Penberthy Family – photo by Michael Dwyer

Family, friends and neighbors demand the city to take more action. At a recent community-effort to assist the Penberthys in sorting through the last of the belongings in the home, comments could be heard suggesting Mayor Bryan Barnett should be doing more; and that if this had taken place across the street from his home, it would be solved by now.

To date, they have received the $8,100 for their property taken through eminent domain and $5,000 from their home insurer. Mary Penberthy told Rochester Media that at least 400 hours have gone into the task of cleaning and moving. Mary estimates $39,000 loss in personal belongings. They suggest $250,000 is needed for full replacement of loss of property; and to restore their 1967 home. This does not include attorney fees.

Lack of trust and blame seem to hold off a solution any time soon. It appears the court system will facilitate the answers at this point. Rochester Media and The Community Edge will report as this sorrowful story continues.

The next court date is December 9.

Photos (unless otherwise noted) provided by the Penberthy Family


About Michael Dwyer

Michael Dwyer is a freelance content provider. Michael writes about happenings in the Rochester area, travels across Michigan and destinations around the world. Contact him at


  1. So they didn’t have insurance. The entire house needs to be taken down. Land turned over to the city. Current value of the lot. Paid to the family.

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