Water bill 105,000 gallons/2 months vs history of 6,000-7,000 gal

13 Replies

Providing lots of detail below, but the TL:DR - water usage 15 times the usual bill. No leaks found anywhere (including running toilets) and unsure how they would go through this much water accidently. How would you split the bill with good tenants?

I have 2 tenants in a house with no pool, no sprinkler system, and have lived there 9 months. Water is billed every two months. Their first 3 bi-monthly usage bills were for 6,000, 6,000, and 7,000 gallons. Their usage for Feb & March was 105,000 gallons. Tenant called me extremely worried when he got his bill.  Usually $80, it was $678.58. My question is - how would you share the cost with the tenant?

They are good tenants, one person works from home and said he never heard anything running, and we have done everything possible to rule out any leaks. 

City said it had been a physical read because the meter transponder was non-responsive and thought it was probably an error by the meter reader. They sent someone out to re-read the meter and confirmed the read at 105,000 gallons.

City walked tenant through basic leak check. I also hired a plumber out to do a leak detection visit and nothing was found. The water main, toilet flappers, faucets, water heater and dishwasher have all been replaced within the past couple of years. 

City and plumber both verified there was no meter movement when the water main was turned off inside as well as when it was open and everything was turned off inside. A follow up read at 1 month indicated water usage at 3,000 gallons (same as a regular non-summer month.)

I pulled usage records for the past 2.5 years and different tenancies - in the summers there were 2 bi-monthly bills at 20,000 gallons, almost all the others ranged 4,000-10,000 and a couple at 12,000.

The city said their leak detection software doesn't show any alerts for the house (24+ hours of continuous water running) but won't discuss if that was affected by the transponder being inoperable or how long it was not working before it was noticed. Can't provide any detailed water usage (days, times of peak usage) info again because of the transponder.

I sent an appeal letter to the city and the only thing that they will do is re-invoice the 105,000 gallons at 1st tier pricing, which lowered the bill from $678.58 to $511.35. Previous bill for tenants was around $80, so difference of around $431.  There is difference of opinion with the partners as to how much to ask the tenant to pay (one says 50/50, one says tenant bears most of the responsiblity).

Look forward to your input. Thx.

Are there any outdoor faucets that are accessible to anyone from off the property?  We have had to put locks on outside faucets due to opportunists pulling up in a truck or RV and filling a water tank if there is an unlocked faucet visible from the street and there appears to be no one home.

Originally posted by @Kathy Johnson :

Are there any outdoor faucets that are accessible to anyone from off the property?  We have had to put locks on outside faucets due to opportunists pulling up in a truck or RV and filling a water tank if there is an unlocked faucet visible from the street and there appears to be no one home.

This is a quiet residential side street with the faucet hidden by large evergreen shrubs, and a tenant working from home full time in the front room right next to the faucet.

I actually provided faucet locks at move in because one of the retired neighbors told me he was "watering the lawn for 6-8 hours" when the previous tenants were at work. That was likely the 20,000 gallon bill from last summer. I don't know if they currently have them on.  There are several retirees beside and across from the house who like to call me when they see or hear of anything out of the ordinary. 

This sounds like a case of meter issues and not actual usage. I'd lean harder on the city for bill relief.

Originally posted by @John Teachout :

This sounds like a case of meter issues and not actual usage. I'd lean harder on the city for bill relief.

Do you have any suggestions for what else I could try to use as leverage?    

I have spoken to several people in the billing department, the manager of the meter department, someone who deals with the leak detection software, and the manager of the billing department. After discussing at length with the manager in billing, I sent in a letter detailing our efforts to find any issue on the property, the overall usage history of the property, and the lack of their data due to the failure of their transponder. The tenant also sent in a letter, but I don't know what theirs said. 

So far this re-pricing is all that I have been able to get (prior to the manager getting involved, all they wanted to do was set up a payment plan).  Seems like everyone's default statement is that "a toilet flap stuck open could cause this much water loss in a day or two". 

Thanks

It sure sounds like a underground main waterline leak. The water company SHOULD be able to tell you how long the water meter has been running constantly. If the meters aren’t “smart” meters and they can’t do that. Just make sure everything that uses water isn’t, and then look at the water meter. If it’s moving you have a leak. If it doesn’t move for more than a minute, you don’t have a leak. 

It would be hard for someone to come by and take that much water. A garden hose is 6 gallons per minute, so 15,000 minutes? More than 40 hours? 6 swimming pools. You really want to know if that much water is leaking under your property.  So if there’s not a leak I don’t have a clue. 

Both the city and the plumber checked to see if the meter was running to check for leaks. In 2 hours there was zero movement on the meter. The meter is between the city line in the street and where the main line goes towards the house, so would have checked for water leaking from the main as well as anywhere else on the property.

Additionally, the read after 30 days indicated normal usage.

I appreciate the brainstorming in case something was missed.

@S Harper

I just had a crazy water bill issue on my last flip in Pittsburgh. Went from using 0 gallons for the duration of construction to suddenly 2000 gallons a day while on the market.

They said “maybe the toilets are running” haha

I had them come out and put a new water meter in, they came and said it was fine. Still not satisfied I put my wife on the phone and she was much more stern than I. Suddenly they admitted to a loose wire they found causing the bad reading and refunded all our money. We were on auto pay and didn’t realize the large payments for a few months

@Matt M.

Sorry. In vegas the water meter is at the street and we own the main water line from the meter to the house. I assume you’re saying your meter is in the house somewhere. It sounds like This guy is in Denver and his water is like ours the leak could have been in the main line where the meter is in the street to the house. But, not if it didn’t move for 2 hours. 

@S Harper is the meter a digital one or an old school rotating dial? If it’s old school is thee a chance one of fhe dials stuck and rotated extra or rotated back? Look at the actual meter readings the month it was accurate and the month it wasnt and see if any dial to the left could have accidentally rotated twice, or left one rotated and rolling over one rolled back?

When the water use jumps, there are two possibilities:

1. The water meter is faulty; or

2. Excess water has been used.

That's it. So you call the utility provider and have them test the meter. 99% of the time, the meter is fine and the issue is that excess water was used.

The biggest culprit is a running toilet or one that flushes constantly. You say that's not the case, but maybe it was running in a second bathroom that the tenant rarely uses and they didn't catch it for a couple weeks. They jiggle the handle, it stops, and they think nothing of it but the damage was already done.

I would change the guts on the toilets and then keep an eye on things. Dollars to bagels, that fixes the issue.

Given that the problem seems to have “coincided” with a malfunctioning water meter reading, as well as all the troubleshooting effects that have already been put in place, it is hard not to suspect something funny going on on the billing side.  It is remarkable how varied the responses are that one gets from (public) utilities, depending on community, region, state, or even depending on the particular individual you happen to talk to.  All you can do is talje to as many “officials” as you can and try to convince them to waive the excess amount.  If they just won’t budge, you or the tenant will be stuck paying up - it is basically impossible to “win” and argument against a dug-in public utility (for some pretty amazing examples, search for various outrageous water utilities threads in the Atlanta area of this forum). 
in any event, to answer the OP’s initial question, if this were my tenants and they were as high quality as described, I would very likely make up the difference (or, at the very least split the difference) for them.  It seems like this is very likely a one-time problem and while $400-500 hurts, it is not a killer expense.  In the long run, retaining a good tenant will likely be worth far more.

But that’s MY approach - I’m sure others feel differently.

@S Harper have you been able to confirm the tenants were not out of town during the high water usage?  Besides that, my thinking is inform the tenant that unfortunately it is their responsibility to pay the water bill but that you will have a unified front on obtaining a refund from the city.  If the city is willing to come down a little then that is some form of admitting fault.  The red flag is there was not "high water" usage alert.  I would keep pushing it with the city and you will probably have better success if when you are speaking with the city to inform them you are trying to help the tenant.