Agreement reached between city of Bellevue and landslide victims for not demolishing home

BELLEVUE, Wash. — After the city of Bellevue took legal action against two victims of a landslide that swept through the Somerset neighborhood on Jan. 17, Bellevue has reached an agreement with the owners of a collapsed home that was badly damaged in the landslide.

The agreement allows a contractor to remove the home and recover any of the owner’s property that can be safely salvaged.

A start date for the demolition could be set as early as next week.

John and Barb Surdi lived in the house for 20 years before it was destroyed after a water main break and landslide knocked it off its foundation.

>> ‘I was catapulted out of bed’: Family recounts moments when Bellevue landslide destroyed home

Two weeks after the devastating incident, the Surdis were dealt with a double whammy – they were sued by the city of Bellevue.

The lawsuit said the city hasn’t received consent from the Surdis to demolish the property fast enough, and accuses that “the Surdis did not take any action to demolish the Residence.” It called the house an “imminent threat” and said that “even natural events such as wind, rainfall, or seismic activity” could trigger further collapse.

The city also sought to “obtain a temporary restraining order… prohibiting the Surdis from perpetuating the public nuisance and from interfering with the city’s demolition of the residence.”

The final bill could have been stuck to the Surdi family.

“I think they’re the one people who shouldn’t have to pay,” said Dee Dee Walsh, a neighbor. “That’s really bad – the Surdis don’t deserve that,” she said.

Attorney Dave Bricklin represents the Surdis.

“It’s really unfortunate the city has come in with this very heavy handed approach,” Bricklin said. “One of the things we’ve been looking at is the potential that the city is responsible for this. To end up having the city sue the Surdis was really adding insult to injury,” he said.

The conflict? The Surdis wanted a chance to retrieve some of their property during the demolition process, like trying to salvage computer hard drives.

“The city told me on Friday there’s just no opportunity for that. The dump trucks are going to cart everything away to the landfill and you’ll never see it again. That didn’t really seem like the city was trying to work with the Surdis and that’s where we had problems,” Bricklin said.

In an email, city spokesperson Brad Harwood said the city has been and will continue to work with the family.

“The city doesn’t take this legal action lightly, and we realize the Surdi family is dealing with a terrible situaton,” Harwood said. “Unfortunately, the area is dangerous and we need to move more quickly,” he said.

The situation means five homes past the Surdi’s residence are still red tagged and some residents are still being forced to stay with other friends or family, and the neighborhood is in limbo.

“I feel very empathetic for our neighbor. This happened to him and it’s obviously not his fault. But we have a lot of pointing fingers right now. I guess fortunately, we have a legal system that can make decisions. So I would actually welcome that,” said George Olson, who lives in the neighborhood.

“I hope there’s a way for both sides to get to a resolution that benefits everyone,” said neighbor Roy Goh.

The Surdis’ attorney also did not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit against the city.

“We’re hopeful whoever is responsible – and as I say, the city is a prime suspect – steps up to the mark and doesn’t force a lawsuit. But we need to complete our investigation the city needs to complete theirs, and we’ll see if we reach common ground,” Bricklin said.

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