Atlanta Watershed -- HELP!

9 Replies

What's up BP -- if you are in Atlanta, I need HELP!!!

Atlanta Watershed is NUTS. I have two properties in the city limits, and both are having massive water problems. Every month the bills are huge, even though we have sent out certified plumbers multiple times, and we have reports stating there are no leaks.

We keep contacting the watershed, and are getting nowhere. Even though the bills are in the tenant's name, and even though GA law clearly states that these bills follow the tenant, Atlanta Watershed pins them to the property as liens, which need to be paid off before the properties can be conveyed. 

So we are racking up crazy bills that they are going to try to pin onto our properties, and they never address the problem.

HELP!!!

1) Does anyone know anybody at Atlanta Watershed that is actually empowered to help people like me? (Instead of the abysmal customer 'service' reps that answer the phone)

2) At your ATL properties, do you just let the tenants set their own bills up? And if so, do you track whether or not they are paying these bills?

3) If you have ever sold an ATL property that had an Atlanta Watershed lien on it from a similar situation, how did you get rid of the lien so the property could close?

@Joshua Feit  

Ugh, sounds exasperating.  

I'm sorry I don't have a specific contact person at Atlanta Watershed but I will say I've had better luck going to City Hall in person to deal with water issues than I have using 311 or internet.

I would separate out the billing issue from the lien issue and tackle them separately.  The root problem you need to solve is the large monthly bills.  Is water flowing through the meter when everything is turned off?  Sounds like you're pretty sure you don't have leaks.  Do you suspect something is wrong with the meters?  Or that they are being read incorrectly?  Document everything (photos, dates, permits, deeds, etc).  It seems odd to me that you are having this issue at two properties simultaneously.  Are both properties occupied with the water account set up in the tenants' names?  If either or both properties are vacant, the water usage is going to be on you, regardless of whether you have an account.

Once you have the billing situation under control, you can tackle the lien issue.  This is really only going to matter when you want to sell or refinance but your lawyer should be able to get the liens removed if you can prove the liability was incurred by a tenant who had an account in their own name.  You can litigate as a last resort but you probably won't have to.

@Dan Mahoney Thanks for the response! I have been going down in person -- seems like every month I'm making an Atlanta Watershed pilgrimage.

Good advice on separating the issues. I really do wonder if something is wrong with the meters. We had a regular meter at one property, which was completely fine. ATL came out and replaced it with a  'remote read' meter, and suddenly, all of these issues!

When the properties are vacant, we are getting bills around the $100 range (when there should be very little usage) and then as soon as a tenant moves in, the bills jump to the $1000 range. 

It feels like ATL is just adding an extra '0' to the end of the bills.

Regarding the liens, do you have an attorney you would recommend who would be able to get this cleared up?

@Joshua Feit That is odd about the new meters and the huge bills, especially since it's happening at both of your houses.  You need to figure out the cause or it will continue to recur.  If the meters are defective you need to persuade the City to replace them ASAP.  The symptoms you describe (usage spikes whenever the home is occupied) sound like a leak or a running toilet, but I know you said you had everything checked by a plumber and found nothing.  A $100 bill is like 6 CCF of usage, which would be reasonable for a household.  A $1,000 bill is like 45-50 CCF, which is really high if you're not running sprinklers or something.  Is that what is showing on the bills?

Re the liens, assuming the unpaid bills are in tenants' names, you might try sending a certified letter to the Atlanta Watershed's legal department reminding them that Georgia law prohibits them from putting a lien on the property for a bill owed by a tenant.  That might save you the cost of retaining a lawyer.

Since Watershed is a City department, you might also try contacting the member of City Council who covers your neighborhood.

...But I wouldn't try to tackle the bills or liens until I understood the root cause of the problem.

I do not know if it is still the same but many years ago I worked on a short sale apartment building in Fulton county. It was about a vacant 60 unit property ( can't remember exact number as it was a long time ago). It took awhile for the owners to get the last 2 tenants out. During that time water bill with penalties over the years went up to over 150,000 or something crazy like that.

I remember having a call with the Watershed director and the Mayors office for the city of Atlanta. I cannot remember specifics as it was so long ago. I do remember the officials schedules they were constantly traveling so getting them on call took about a month. They finally agreed to settle the water lien for less than what is owed. Back then Fulton county had some really weird statute law that water liens SURVIVE a foreclosure. So in Fulton county they were allowed to attach to the property and you could not get rid of them. Might have changes since then but you have to check. Problem in Fulton county is the water and sewer systems at the streets in a bunch of areas are approaching 100 years old or older and the city of Atlanta and the county have no money to replace it. So they wait until a street caves in from failing before fixing a section. It's a huge problem. I do not invest in Fulton because of their sky high property tax rates and their failing infrastructures. I like suburbs in surrounding MSA counties that have their stuff together and taxes are reasonable.

Do you have galvanized pipes from your property to the street water meter? It could be you do not have a leak in the building itself but from the building to the street. That could be leaking underground constantly and you not even know it. What is the water pressure like in your building? Does the water meter work properly?

Someone could be stealing water as well. Lot's of things can happen. If tanks run into bowls and other water leaks in the property then it could go up hundreds a month. If it's a main outside leak could be thousands. If you fix and show engineering department they generally do a credit for the first time. If it keeps happening over and over then good luck they will not usually keep crediting. Fulton county has some of the highest water and sewer per gallon usage rates in the country even with no leaks inside or outside. The last 5 years they have gone up a ton maybe double I am not sure but I know it is a lot.

No legal advice given.

@Joshua Feit   I too am in a similar situation with Atl Watershed. Our SFD had no fixtures and the water was shut off at the main valve before the PRV. They sent me our first bill with activation charges and the normal fees. The next bill was in the $750 range and it read that we used over 27,000 gallons of water.  I took pictures of the meter and notice it was not running. It was the same a week later. Spoke to customer service in person. They said they would investigate. Funny thing is, the next bill showed no water usage.  I had a plumber check it out with me and we couldn't find anything wrong and no leaks. During renovations we had the valve turned on and our plumbing was intact. I took the bill, all my photos, and documents to Atl Watershed. They said they would begin their investigation of the meter. In the mean time I placed a tenant and had the water switched to their name with a notarized lease. When I went back to Atl Watershed to argue the bill again they told me I can appeal it so I have. They refused to give me any statement that provided information on the outcome of their investigation. I thought that was odd. I believe this will turn out in my favor. If there was a leak the bill wouldn't stay the same. 

@Andres Rivero Yeah -- that sounds like Atlanta watershed. I generally don't like conspiracy theories, but the whole thing feels like it's rigged against landlords. ATL is so deep in the hole, and the infrastructure is crumbling. Sometimes I think they are just pinning arbitrary bills on unsuspecting landlords, turning them into illegal liens against the property, and then hoping that we will skip the hassle of litigation and just pay them off at the time of conveyance.

I can't believe something as simple as water service can turn into such a huge headache. Thanks mostly to Atlanta Watershed, I am looking outside the city for future investments. (Just bought two houses in Jonesboro, for instance.)

Let's stay in touch, and we can help each other deal with these water monsters.

@Joshua Feit Absolutely,  I just connected with you. Let's stay in touch. I seeked out legal advice for this situation but, because of the amount of the bill didn't justify the legal fees, I will appeal this one myself. They will not give me any information for the appeal process either. The only information I was given when asked was a time and date of the appeal. We'll see how that goes. 

Can't help with the ATL or legal aspect, but most/all electronic read meters still have the old fashioned dial as well. Have you documented that in terms of water usage? Does that match up with the meter reading on the bill?

I can see a decimal being moved the wrong direction in their software for maybe certain models of meters.