5 On Your Side

More Customers Paying Neighbors' Water Bills

Posted September 27, 2007

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— How would you like to pay your neighbor's bills? That’s what's happening to people who live in two different condominium complexes in Raleigh.

WRAL’s 5 on Your Side first reported about the situation at the Oaks at Bentley Ridge a couple of weeks ago. Dozens of water meters were hooked up to the wrong water lines, so neighbors were paying each others water bills.

Some thought it was a fluke, but it happens more than people realize.

From the shower, to the coffee maker, to the hose, Pam Bowen used water but doesn't pay for this water. That's because the meter that's supposed to go to her Raleigh condo is instead connected to her neighbor's condo.

The first clue came more than a year ago.

“In 2006, my water got cut off, but my water bills were getting paid on time,” Bowen said.

She called the city. Crews reconnected it, but months later, it happened again.

“That's when I found out that I wasn't even paying my own water bill. I was paying someone else's water bill,” Bowen said.

Most of the lines in two buildings were crossed and have been that way since 1999. The developer paid a plumber to fix the problem, but somehow Bowen’s line was still crossed.

“It's not right, but there's not a whole lot I can do about it unless I want to hire the plumber myself to come and fix it, and I don't think it's my responsibility,” she said.

Bowen called 5 on Your Side after seeing our story about Kirk Carrison, who had the same problem.

“It's really insane, isn't it? I mean that it could be that messed up,” Carrison said.

Seventy-one homes in his Oaks at Bentley Ridge townhouse community in Raleigh also have water lines hooked up to the wrong meters. Carrison has been waiting more than a year for a fix.

“Everyone's pointing at everybody else, and the owners are stuck,” he said. “It's actually our problem and we didn't do anything. We just bought here.”

“I'm just wondering how many people in Raleigh or all over have this problem and don't even know it,” Bowen said. “I would have never known it if my water hadn't kept getting cut off.”

Dale Crisp is director of Raleigh's public utilities. Because of the number of units involved, Crisp said, correctly connecting water lines to meters in multi-level housing is especially difficult.

“The reality is that the builder's don't build it perfect every time. The inspectors don't catch it every time, and some of these go on for years before they're caught by the customer or by us,” he said. “I draw the parallel to a component system in a stereo. How easy was it to hook it up originally and if you disconnect it, how easy is it to connect it back up? I mean that's the kind of complexity we're talking about.”

The city is now working on a fix for Bentley Ridge. They've already re-tagged each meter to reflect the unit it goes with and adjusted their system so that customers get the right bills.

And to keep this meter mess from happening in the future, Crisp said from now on, the city will take a hard line approach.

“We're not going to set the meter until we have written verification that this unit has been connected to the right meter,” Crisp said.

As for Bowen's crossed lines, Crisp said they are working with the plumber to get them back out there to fix the problem. In the meantime, they will work out the same interim fix as they did in Bentley Ridge.

19 Comments

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  • thefensk Sep 28, 2007

    I'm glad other readers pointed out the obvious ... this is a records-keeping problem, not a physical problem.
    Meter serial number 1234 goes to apartment A, not apartment B. Change the registration records.
    Problem solved. Building inspections should run a simple audit after installation ... turn on the water and see which meter runs.

  • Irock Sep 28, 2007

    In my opinion this shouldnt happen at all. When the utilites are being laid they should be marked appropriatley at the time and be inspected prior to cover up. Isnt this a code already. and hold the inspectors accountable.

  • something2say Sep 28, 2007

    Unfortunately, this is not just a problem in NC, my sister in Boston has owned a house that was turned into Apt for a couple of years. Recently one of the tenants was out of town for a month and came home to a whooper of an electric bill! They have figured out it was wired wrong and are now blaming it on the owners! Of course my sis and her husband purchased the house after the renovation and had nothing to do with wiring. The renter now wants compensation because she had the smaller of the apartments! Unfortunately this problem is so old anyone who should be to blame is gone gone!!!

    The inspectors should have found it!!! They don't and then the home owner or person in residence has to take on the cost! It is outrageous!

  • ptahandatum Sep 28, 2007

    This kind of thing does indeed happen in more ways that you can count. And, the Eternal, thank you for wanting to mention Zeus again. All the rest of us appreciate it greatly. May Zeus bless you and keep you forever and ever.

  • lilwil Sep 28, 2007

    This isn't just with the water bills, electric bills...especially around Christmas. These companies are getting over and act like they don't know what is going on.

    Yeah right.

  • Outside the Beltline Sep 28, 2007

    This happened to me, except it was with my electric meter assigned to the wrong apartment. Fortunately with that, there was an easy way to test it. At the advice of the electric company, I cut the main breaker and checked the meters to see which one had stopped. That made it really easy to tell I was assigned to the wrong meter.

    Unfortunately, with water usage, you usually don't see the meter, so you have to rely on luck to tell if you're hooked up correctly.

  • White Eagle Sep 28, 2007

    SailbadTheSinner - "Just switch the meter number on the account and be done with it. This appears to be a paperwork detail. Who cares which meter actually goes to which unit ...."

    Why do it the easy way when you can spend thousands of dollars to hire a plumber to dig it all up and make the correct connection?

    It is so blatantly obvious to just renumber the meters so they correspond to the correct unit as you suggest. But again, that would be too easy!

  • brassy Sep 28, 2007

    "The reality is that the builder's don't build it perfect every time. The inspectors don't catch it every time..."

    Ever heard of "training"? If you don't know how to do your job, either learn or get a new one.

  • Rolling Along Sep 28, 2007

    NCGal...good luck on getting anything out of the county...or the state. They have immunity.

  • imrickjamesbitch Sep 28, 2007

    Wow, Pam you look great.... even after 20 years

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