5 On Your Side

More Customers Paying Neighbors' Water Bills

Posted September 27, 2007 6:23 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2007 6:43 p.m. EDT

— 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.