City doesn’t read water meter for 8 months, then sends $3K bill

KPRC 2 DRAINED Investigation: What you should know about estimating water bill reads

One of the biggest problems plaguing Houston water customers with huge bills are estimated meter reads.

When your meter is not sending your reading electronically back to the city the water department sometimes guesses how much water you used, and they bill you for that amount.

Investigator Amy Davis explains how you can protect yourself from inaccurate, many times inflated bills.

When the water department estimates your water usage

In our year+ long ‘DRAINED’ Investigation we are tackling just about any type of water bill issue you are having. Now we are looking into when the city estimates your water usage instead of actually checking it. When the water department estimates your bill they have to note it on your bill.

On the second page of your water bill, if the reading was not an actual read it will say estimated. (See picture below.)

Is the city estimating your water bill? You might want to check. The latest 'DRAINED' Investigation looks into a viewer question about a big bill. Amy Davis discovered the city estimated the customer bill for 8 months. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

City code says the city is only allowed to estimate your meter readings three months in a row before they must get out there and read it manually. That’s not what happened to Chris Maris who reached out to Amy Davis for help.

“Our first six months in the house, it was the same $45-$60 a month. And then all of a sudden, we get this $3,800 bill. So of course, I’m saying- well this isn’t right. Obviously, a mistake. Let me give them a call,” said Maris.

Months of calls got him nowhere. But when we looked at his water bills, we noticed the city estimated his meter readings 8 out of 12 months. He was getting and paying small bills. But when the water department did get an actual read they tried to play catch up and stick him with a bill for $3,796.

But wait one minute... In February the Director of Public Works Carol Haddock told us she wouldn’t do that.

'DRAINED' KPRC 2 Investigation looks into issues customers are having with City of Houston water bills. During this February 2023 interview Carol Haddock said the city will only estimate meter reads for three months. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

During that February interview, Amy asked,” Doesn’t city code say you can’t do that?” (Estimate meter reads for months on end.)

“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 Haddock.

“So more than three months back, it would only be the average bill that would ever go back. And so, we would only correct the last three months when we go out and get the manual read. So, it you won’t get six months of correction or nine months of correction. You would only be subject to the three months.”

When we reminded the Public Works Department Haddock told us this a spokesperson sent this email:

“Director Haddock is very big on keeping her word. We are going to investigate Mr. Maris’ account again and provide an update.”

This is why looking at your bills and comparing the readings to what is on your meter is so important. If you see that the numbers don’t match you need to call the city and demand that they bill you for the water that you are actually using in that billing cycle. See more: Steps to take if you get a high-water bill.

In total, we’ve done 30+ investigations into water bill issues in Houston. We will not stop working for you. Email Amy Davis or Producer Andrea Slaydon if you have any water bill concerns/questions.

About the Authors:

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

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.