Outrageous water bills and inaccurate meter readings are frustrating. Why so many people are being “DRAINED” and forced to pay water bills they don’t owe? The KPRC 2 Investigates team is actively working for more than 200 customers who’ve reached out, and our work is getting them results.
KPRC 2 Investigates recovers money for water bill customers
After our week-long ‘DRAINED’ series in November, we were inundated with emails and requests for help from customers being squeezed for money they don’t owe. Since November, we have recovered some $22,000 for nearly a dozen customers. That’s about $2,000 per household!
This is just the tip of the iceberg because every case we send to the city takes about four to six weeks for the water department to straighten out.
Folks contacting us are from Acres Homes to Alief, West Houston to Kingwood, and inside the loop. We have introduced you to customers absolutely “drained” dealing with the slow-moving, heavy-handed water department before.
“I couldn’t get with anyone to even try to explain the situation,” said Jan Adelman.
Adelman received a $693 water bill in November. He disputed it, but got nowhere. His bills and others were cleared only after we asked the city for an explanation of why they were charged so much.
“These are people who were working with the city for months some who had already been told. Sorry you owe this money,” said City Public Works Director Carol Haddock.
“I don’t believe that you changed whether or not we would get to a successful end. You may have changed the timing in which you got attention to it, but we were working through each one of these individually,” said Haddock.
She says the water department made some changes because of our investigation in November.
Changes to your water bills
1. Changes to how far the city will back bill
Haddock says if the city fails to bill you correctly for water used over several months, even years, the water department will now only back bill you for the last 3 months. Before they were going back and charging for 24 months.
Statement from city about this change:
“Customer Account Services has changed that to only going back for the last three months of estimated bills that they city can collect. Carol (Haddock) said CAS would only charge the customers the average usage for the last three months that their bill was estimated.
Customer Account Services experienced a supply shortage in replacing the automatic reading devices. This led to rising demand of manual readings, which resulted in estimated readings. The change is temporary in response to these issues. It is not applicable to long-term meter reading estimates due to a customer’s obstruction of a meter. The City of Houston has very limited number of meters with long-term estimates due to obstruction. Billing corrections are authorized by City of Houston Code of Ordinance 47-65 Billing errors – in general. The city is authorized to correct billing errors up to 24 months. Currently Customer Account Services is correcting up to 3 months. As this was an internal process change that is within the 24-month criteria, it did not require an ordinance update.”
2. More staff to help customers with issues
The city hired more help.
“We’ve been able to bring in 35 additional people to answer phones in January. Our wait time was under 10 minutes,” said Haddock.
3. Bills easier to read
The City of Houston changed the look of your water bill, it’s more obvious if your meter read was estimated.
You will now see the word “estimated” on the front page of your bill next to the reading *and* on the second page.
The city’s water billing problems are far from over
That is why all this week we are shining a light on issues causing our bills and rates to skyrocket, issues the city *can* fix. We know you only want to pay for the water you use. Our KPRC 2 Investigates team is focusing on problems that the city can and should resolve because we are all ‘DRAINED’.
See the full program guide for what we have planned this week and also how you can send in your own concerns.