Accidental use of water and water company?

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A buddy of mine was away for a week and returned to find that the water heater in his rented condo had sprung a major leak. He said it was running about like half of a wide open sink faucet rate. The friggin thing was about 23 years old. I remember seeing the label on it, how the area around the pipe connections looked corroded, etc. I warned him about it and told him to make sure he shut off the water when he was away on trips, but obviously, he didn't.
Good news is that the water was handled by the sump pump. Bad news is a lot of water may have been billed. Not sure about the gas, as he shut the thing off without finding out if the thing had been fired up. The water coming out was cold, but at that flow rate, it could just be that it couldn't heat it fast enough. He did say he didn't hear it running. I'm hoping the water put the pilot out, but on the other hand, from where it was leaking, it sounds like it was the anode rod fitting area at the top of the tank that went.
Just wondering, does anyone have any experience in what happens with the water or gas company in a case like this. Do they expect full payment for the water/gas? Or if you can show it was an accident do they negotiate or give you a break?
Also, what are views on the landlord's responsibility for paying for the water/gas if the utility company does not? In the general case, where it just happens to say a reasonably new water heater, it would seem to me this is a grey area as to whether the landlord would be responsible to pay for water. In the case of a 20+ year old water heater, I think he has a much better case, as it's well known that these things usually fail long before that, so it looks like a case for negligence could be made.
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snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

The major causative factor was your friend ignoring your advice and warning. There's the negligence for you. The landlord may or may not have been aware of the age and condition of the water heater. Unless your friend sent a letter to the landlord alerting him to the heater's imminent demise, then expecting the landlord to rollover on the gas/water bill is highly unrelaistic. He's already facing a larger than usual monthly cost in replacing the water heater and probably won't take kindly to be asked to spring for more money to cover utility bills.
The gas and water companies have no role in this. If you consume, you pay.
This is one of those situations where the tenant escaped a bullet. Expecting to be reimbursed for the bullet is ridiculous. I wouldn't be stoking the fire for compensation from the landlord or utility companies, but rather pointing out the tenant's role and ultimate responsibility. Throw in a "I told you so." or three so they learn something and will listen to you next time.
R
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RicodJour wrote:

In my town, water meters read like odometers. The meter reader is competent and reliable. The retired couple across the street used about 2500 gallons per month. They were thrifty and sensible. They would not water their lawn or even their shrubs.
One month they were billed for something like 15,000 gallons. They couldn't account for it. They would certainly have heard that much water running in the house, such as in a stuck toilet. It was a drought. I'd been over there frequently and would have noticed wet ground if a hose had been left on.
They had to pay. All bills before and after were normal. Other people in town have had the same experience. What could cause it?
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Bart Byers wrote:

revenue enhancement.
D
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Possibly the water company was sending out estimated usage bills which were low and then finally got around to actually reading the meters??
lee
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lee houston wrote:

More likely they misread the meter. Had that happen several times on electric meters where they would misread an upper digit. Had to call in corrected readings. Even if I didn't call in corrected readings it would be corrected at the next proper reading since it's a continuous count, not a monthly reset. The bills after that 15,000 gallons were likely not "normal", but rather "minimum" charges that showed little or no water use, just the base charge.
In my case anything from 2,000 gal down is the base charge. I did once blow a 3/4" fitting past the meter and it dumped about 12,000 gal before I found and fixed it. The lawn was nice and green for a while in the area sloping downhill from the meter pit.
Pete C.
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Pete C. wrote:

Once a month the reader can be seen walking down the street and writing the reading from each reader. A reading approximately 12,000 gallons high would mean more than one digit was misread. As soon as I heard about the high reading, I checked the meter. The usage since that reading was consistent with historic usage.
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Bart Byers wrote:

Usage based on the quantity listed on the bill, or the meter readings? Do the actual reported meter readings before during and after the mystery bill "add up"? If all readings subsequent to the mystery one show the 12,000 gal from the jump then either the water went through the meter to somewhere, the meter had a failure or the meter was changed.
Anything like a water softener that could have a back flush valve get temporarily stuck and dump a lot of water unnoticed? Over 30 days 12,000 gal could be as little as .27 gallons per minute. Over a 7 day period it's like 1.2 gpm so a back flush valve stuck on a weekly cycle and freeing the next cycle could pretty easily dump that much.
Pete C.
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Pete C. wrote:

The meter readings I made after the high bill were consistent with the reading on the bill and convinced me there was no continuing leak. I wasn't shown old bills, but they said their monthly usage had always been consistent.
They had no water softener. Their heating system used air. Indoors they had a washing machine, a kitchen sink, and one bathroom. It's a small, quiet house. They would have noticed running water.
The soil under the house was dry. Outside they had two taps with 1/2" vinyl hoses for rinsing. I think I would have noticed a wet area or lush grass if 12,000 gallons had run from a hose.
Several months earlier, the town had hired a contractor to move the meter from the street side of the sidewalk to the yard side. I suppose the meter reader could have supplied false readings for several months so the shocking bill would not be associated with a meter change.
This town has about 200 voters. The bill comes early in the month. At noon on the 25th a $65 penalty is due. The bill and penalty must be paid in cash even if the resident has paid for 30 years without bouncing a check. The meter reader pulls meters on unpaid accounts at noon so people will pay immediately. With cash required and a noon deadline, it's ideal for skimming; to determine how much cash was collected, an auditor would have to know exactly what time each account was paid.
A neighbor didn't realize his bill was unpaid until he saw his meter being pulled. The town clerk said they had neglected to send him a bill, but because he was ten minutes late, he was still responsible to pay the bill and the penalty in cash. Another time, the reader came to his door at noon on Christmas Eve. He said they were pulling meters a day before the deadline because it was Christmas, but my neighbor could avoid the hassle if he paid the reader the bill and penalty in cash on the spot.
I think officials have been robbing water customers for many years, but I don't understand how they could pocket the money if they replaced a meter to overbill somebody who paid by check.
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After something like that, I do believe I'd be digging my own well and telling them to keep their meter. I'd even take out a loan for it, too. That's just heinous.
-Nathan Bart Byers wrote:

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politics require a political solution, if enough people get mad then run someone for office on a change the water company position.
heck if even half the customers refused to pay the bills the company would reform itself
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

The town clerk, who lives 20 miles away, set the policies. Those who supported her have been voted out. In campaigning, the mayor and one of the councilmen were quite outspoken in their anger, having been victimized.
She works short hours. If the office is closed, you put your payment in the night deposit slot. Once I happened to check my bank balance online on the 24th. I discovered that the check I'd put in the slot on the 12th had not been cashed, which meant my water would have been disconnected the next day. The clerk told me somehow they had not received the check, and I had to pay a 10% penalty.
You avoid the penalty by paying before closing time on the 15th. Once I arrived an hour before closing time. The place was locked and no car was in the lot. I assumed the clerk was home sick. I put my payment in the slot. The clerk charged me the penalty. She said sometimes they locked up early to have a meeting, and in that case anyone who found the door locked had to pay the penalty. As there were no cars present, she was lying about the meeting. She took some time off and billed me for it.
It's unclear how she and her assistant fill their short hours, but she is often there at night with the doors locked. People have warned the council that she is not working but accruing overtime so she can retire early and demand compensation.
The mayor and the council are against her but she continues to rule because she knows how to fill out the forms the federal government demands of a tiny town.
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We have a well and a septic system. In the 60s and 70s, council members got rich selling houses on a low clay field. Then came the Reagan Era, when big government said if anyone had drainfield problems, the taxpayers would have to pay for a sewer system.
We and other residents were disconnected from our wells and septic systems so the town could bill us for what we didn't want or need. Some insisted on staying on their wells because the water was safer. They were required to have their wells metered so the town could bill them for sewerage. Then the town billed them for their own water as well as sewerage.
(In the Clinton Era, the EPA reversed itself, saying a good septic system would work in almost any terrain and in a rural community would be much cheaper and better for the environment than a sewer. However, county officials have stuck to the Reagan Doctrine because it makes taxpayers help fly-by-night businesses and those making a killing in real estate.)
My monthly consumption is a third of the average. Those using less than the average are billed a flat rate as if they'd used the average. We're the ones who pay the town's overhead so those who use more water get it wholesale. The one who pays the largest share of the town's overhead would be the widow who doesn't use a drop because she's away in a nursing home. Because the billing encourages waste, there have been expensive problems with the EPA over the disposal of all that sewer water. Bills are ten times higher than in 1988.
nhurst wrote:

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In a town with 200 voters, it shouldn't be too hard to get the system changed. Throw the rascals out.
Bob
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RicodJour wrote:

Having been a landlord........I'd have to agree with R & Edwin except for maybe the fact that the landlord (IMO) should know the age & condition of his equipment.
That said, you did warn your friend about the w/h AND gave him a preventative measure. It's one of those unfortunate situations....he would have probably caught the leak had he been in town.
I figure at 5 gpm & $1.50 per 748 gallons he's got about $100 water bill coming (could be as much as $200 depending on water rates or less if my flow rate guess is high)
Depending on the heating capacity (BTU / hr) of the w/h , nat gas rates in his area & whether the pilot stayed lit......my guess is that the guess bill is going to be an extra $75.
To quote my former 85 year old neighbor......"a cheap lesson; nobody got hurt, nothing got ruined".
If the sump pump had failed to keep up & he had expensive stuff down there, the whole situation could have been a lot worse.....$$$$'s.
He should consider himself lucky & listen to his knowledgable friend.
Maybe his insurance MIGHT cover his ultility loss?
cheers Bob
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RicodJour wrote:

So, the tenant is now the one responsible for making sure the building structure and utilities are properly maintained? And it's there fault if something that is way beyond it's expected service life fails and damage results? That's a new concept. The place passed a CO inspection. Should they then hire a home inspector to review everything, give opinions and document everything that they find wrong? And how would the typical landlord react to that?
Amazing that you have more empathy for the landlord who has to pay for a new water heater after 23 years, than the tenant who was not in control of deciding when to replace it.
I don't think it's at all ridiculous for the tenant to be looking for reimbursement. In fact, I think if it went to small claims, the tenant would have a pretty good case.
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snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

This whole situation is not exactly cut & dried;
the water heater was old, the landlord did or should have know it's age & conditionm the CO inspection should have flagged the w/h your friend should have listened to you about turing the water off your firend could have had someone house sit or at least do a walk through your friend is in physical posession of the property; the eyes & ears on site, he had material knowledge of a potential problem; information not given to the landlord
like R said, this has slide over to the area of ethics since there conditon was recognized.
maybe someone's insurance can cover it or maybe the two parties can split the extra bills
bottom line, you discovered a potential problem (like a smoldering fire? but not as bad) & your friend choose not to act or pass on that information; in the legal world I believe this is call contingent liabiltiy.........no one (excpet for you) in this situation has entirely clean hands, the truth be told.
cheers Bob
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It is the landlords responsibility to maintain the equipment, not the tennant. Did the landlord have in the lease to turn off the water heater when leaving, no he did not, no one does, so why should the tennant be responsible, he is not. Utility companies may or may not understand the landlords problems. Of course all will want the tennant to pay, but its not his equipment that failed, he rents, not owns.
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Of course they want full payment. It went through the meter so you pay. If you don't pay, everyone else pays a little more to make up the difference.
If , at the end of the week, your employer said he really didn't need what you did on Tuesday, would you accept that he won't pay you?
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Not so quick Ed. In my area, the water district provides partial relief if the water usage was found to be caused by a leak, and within the next billing cycle you provide proof (receipts) of repair.
In my case, I had the main going from the meter to my house spring a leak caused by a rock that had, over time, finally punctured the line. I got an astronomical bill. I immediately called a good plumber, who located and repaired the leak. I then submitted the correct paperwork to the water district, and on the next bill, they gave me 50% relief for the excess water usage, calculated by comparing the previous year usage for the same billing cycle to the current year.
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