‘I’m very confused.’ Retired Houston couple stressed over $2,000 water bill

‘DRAINED’ Investigation looks into huge bill, why meter was not read for years

HOUSTON – With just about any ongoing service you receive, you get a bill, you pay it and then you move on to the next month.

But, hundreds of Houston water customers who have paid their bills on time every month are getting slapped with enormous charges months later with no explanation.

The KPRC 2 Investigates team is digging into the billing nightmares that are leaving customers “DRAINED.”

'DRAINED' KPRC 2 Investigation looks for answers about confusing bills. A West Houston couple says they are dealing with a surprise bill after a meter issue. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

These are supposed to be the golden years for Rajni and Hari Kamnani. They raised three children in a west Houston home where they’ve lived for 30 years. But now retired and partially disabled, instead of enjoying their empty nest, they’re worried their water will be cut off.

“Totally confused. I’m very confused. I don’t know what I should do,” said Hari.

Sudden $2,000+ surprise water bill

He’s confused because he pays his bills on time and in full.

Kamnani actually reached out to the city last fall to ask why they failed to send bills in May, July, and August. Instead of a response, he got two bigger bills in September. He assumed these made up for the months the city had not billed him.

But then in October, the city added a monthly payment arrangement of $2,118 to their bill with no explanation.

“I’m not refusing to pay anything, but not $2,000, you know. I don’t have $2,000 to pay,” he said.

No one from the water department would answer Hari’s emails in writing, but he says by phone a customer service representative told him his meter hadn’t been read in three years and that the bills he had paid were only base charges they didn’t cover any water used. And now, they said that money is due.

'DRAINED' KPRC 2 Investigation looks into issues customers are having with City of Houston water bills. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Doesn’t seem fair that these senior citizens have to bear the brunt of a city error.

What does city code say about estimating meter reads

“City code says that we’re supposed to get those manual reads. We did not have the workforce available to do that more quickly. And so we’ve shifted some things around and made sure that either we get to it or we don’t bill back beyond the three months,” said Houston Public Works Director, Carol Haddock.

That’s what Haddock told us earlier this month, that even though city code says the city can bill back for charges not collected up to 24 months in the past, she said right now the water department will only back bill three months if the city estimates a customer’s bills for more than that.

But get this, the Kamnanis apparently don’t count. You see their bills were not estimated. They weren’t billed for usage at all only base charges for years.

(Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

The couple is confused and wants answers about how water bills were calculated

The Kamnanis have asked the city, and so have we, to show us meter reads from the last time they got an actual read before that $2,000 adjustment. The water department has not responded to those requests so we could at least check the math and understand what and how they are billing the Kamnanis.

Hours before this story aired Tuesday, a water department representative contacted the Kamnanis family and told them they were lowering their $2,100 bill to $328.

‘DRAINED’ Investigation into water billing issues

If you are having an issue with your water bill and you need help, let us know. Check out our other ‘DRAINED’ Investigative pieces where you will find potential solutions to the types of complaints we received.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.