Homeowners drown in deep water bills

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by Janet Roach, 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on March 18, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 19 at 10:49 AM

NORFOLK--Bronwynn Riggins is fighting Norfolk Public Utilities over her $946 water bill for a home on Krick Street that she moved out of 10 months ago.

Riggins recalls trying to explain everything to a customer representative. "I explained to her that we no longer lived there and we no longer own the property and that nobody was in the house. I asked her how could that happen, and she didn't really know," said Riggins.

Riggins sold her Norfolk home in January and now lives in Killeen, Texas.  

In December, the realtor asked if she could turn the water on for a home inspection. She did and says she called back to public utilities to tell them to turn it off. One month later, Riggins got a bill for $946 dollars for 59,840 gallons of water usage.  The billing period was from December 26 through January 29.

Riggins was outraged. "When I called back to turn it off, they said the new occupants had already called and we'll shut it off and switch it to their name on the 29th."

Riggins says there were no signs of a leak. Gabe Aikens is the owner of the home repair company Fix It Right, Solutions Today and says the house was fine when he checked it in mid-January.

"The realtor called me to ask me to check to see if there were any water leaks underneath the home so I did that.  It's very beautiful underneath the home," said Aikens. 

It is a similar situation for Wilson Pang. He's been fighting with Virginia Beach Public Utilities and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District for more than a year.

His $860 bill is for the home he owns on Thalia Trace but has been vacant since 2009. Since Pang refused to pay up, HRSD shut off service to the home he's living in now.

After the 13News Troubleshooters contacted Virginia Beach Public Utilities, his service was turned back on and his bill was knocked down to $275.  Utilities Business Manager Bob Montague says Pang is still responsible for the reading on the meter and that's why they won't wipe away the bill.

"The resolved part is that I get my water turned back on. The other part is they're still billing me for a vacant property that water was shut off for for over 2 years and all of sudden I get a bill," says Pang.

According to Montague, adjusting the charges by 75% is the highest amount available. He says because the home was vacant, Pang qualified for the highest adjustment.

In a letter to Pang from Mayor Will Sessoms, he writes, "At some point, water service to the property was restored by someone other than Public Utilities' employees, and a large volume of water passed through the meter. Normally, in these instances, when there is excess water consumption for an unknown reason, an adjustment of 50% is made."

Pang says he never authorized anyone to turn the water on and is baffled over the entire situation.
 
In Norfolk, Riggins was also offered a 50% discount, but she says the bill is still way too much.

Norfolk Utilities Spokesman Harry Kenyon sent an email to 13News.   He writes, "When an unexplained spike is reported by the customer, the Department of Utilities will review the details of an irregular meter reading and make a determination on whether an adjustment is given based upon the average historic consumption on that account." 

Kenyon also says if Riggins made any leak repairs to her home, the city would consider deducting the price of the repairs from the bill.

Montague says every once in a while, homeowners are stunned with high bills because of an unknown leak in their plumbing. He advises that they routinely check for what could be a silent problem.

"Toilets left unchecked can have huge impacts. We've seen bills in excess of a thousand dollars," said Montague.

Tips for homeowners, you know you have a leak if:

  • your toilet flushes or fills by itself
  • you hear hissing or dripping sounds from the tank
  • the flow indicator on your meter shows movement when all the water is turned off
  • color appears in your toilet 5 minutes after putting food coloring in the tank

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