Couple repeatedly overcharged on water bill

March 1, 2012 7:27:24 PM PST
No one wants to pay a bill that they just don't owe, but that's what happened to an elderly Los Altos Hills couple until their daughter got in touch with 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney.

This was a case of one mistake compounded by another. Everything was so mixed up, it took more than 18 months to unravel. The act of filling up a pitcher with water is not something the Crosby family takes for granted. "I went there alone and there was no water at all. It was a Saturday night. It was horrible," Consuelo Crosby recalled. The water company had shut off the water to the family's vacation home at a complex in Monterey.

It was all because of a dispute over the water bill. It started in July of 2010. "So, this became the first, very obvious, immediately apparent overcharge," Conseulo said. It was a $110 charge for a bill that's normally $20 to $40. The family complained, but California American Water told Consuelo's parents their home had leaky water pipes. The family then spent $300 to hire a plumber to check for leaks. "And they said no, that their pipes were fine. So, the water company gave them a courtesy credit," Consuelo said.

That should have been end of the story, but a few months later, the family saw another huge spike in the bill, $86 in January of 2011, $104 the following month, then $122 in March, and $129 in April. The family refused to pay the bill. "They actually had someone from the local water company come out and say, 'Oh yes, we've been reading the wrong meter all this time. We apologize,'" Consuelo said.

That's right. American Water Company had been reading the meter of their neighbor and billing the Crosbys by mistake. The water company promised to take care of it. So, end of the story? Not quite. "They kept sending letters, threatening letters of non-payment, and we're going to shut your water off, and they did nothing to fix the erroneous billing," Consuelo said.

The family made partial payments, but refused to pay the whole thing until the dispute could be settled. In July, the family received a final notice. In December of last year, the water to their vacation home in Monterey was shut off. It was ironic since the home sits right along the ocean.

That's when they called 7 On Your Side and we contacted California American Water. The company said that when it discovered it had been reading the wrong water meter, it moved to fix the error. "When we inputted the information into the computer, we reversed the accounts again for a second time. It was human error on our part. We certainly apologize for that. We have now corrected for the customer," they said.

The family has been credited for the overcharge.

California American Water says it has been reading the wrong water meter for the Crosby's since 2004. The spikes in their billing were actually caused by water leaks... in their neighbor's water pipes.


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