Watch out for wa­ter leaks to avoid shock­ing bills

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ANNA COX @an­na­cox

JOBURG res­i­dents, check your wa­ter me­ters and read­ings monthly or you could find your­selves with ex­or­bi­tant bills if there’s a leak for which you’ll be re­spon­si­ble.

Res­i­dent Lowry Beck got the shock of his life when he re­ceived a bill of over R80000 for wa­ter.

“We have been in the very un­for­tu­nate po­si­tion of hav­ing a com­pletely un­de­tectable, and hence un­known, wa­ter leak be­neath our house. This de­vel­oped dur­ing the month of Septem­ber. How­ever, I was com­pletely ig­no­rant of this due to it be­ing sub­merged and there be­ing no ev­i­dence of a leak any­where on the property. It re­mained com­pletely un­de­tected for an ef­fec­tive pos­si­ble 96 days due to the fact that Joburg Wa­ter only did an es­ti­mate for Septem­ber and then only read the me­ter some 76 days af­ter the pre­vi­ous ac­tual read­ing on Oc­to­ber 13. It took a fur­ther 21 days from the date of the ac­tual read­ing in Oc­to­ber for the bill to ar­rive, thereby ef­fec­tively al­low­ing a 96-day pe­riod be­tween my re­ceiv­ing ac­tual read­ing ac­counts and my be­com­ing aware of the ex­is­tence of a mas­sive prob­lem,” he said.

Ef­fec­tively this re­sulted in the wa­ter leak run­ning “ram­pant” for 96 days and thereby ac­cru­ing a mas­sive bill of some R83 817, which has been vastly in­flated due to the puni­tive wa­ter penal­ties in place, he said.

“I re­alise that ir­re­spec­tive of the sit­u­a­tion, one is re­spon­si­ble for any wa­ter leaks/us­age that oc­curs on one’s property. I also know that Joburg Wa­ter has the dis­cre­tion to do es­ti­mate read­ings for as long as six months and that they can­not be re­spon­si­ble for slow postage re­sult­ing in late de­liv­ery of ac­counts.”

How­ever, Beck says he feels strongly that there are some ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances that should be taken into ac­count thereby ren­der­ing him at least some re­lief, even if it is just from the puni­tive penalty charges.

Beck says he has, on four oc­ca­sions, reg­is­tered for the wa­ter and other util­ity bills to be sent via e-mail, yet this has not ma­te­ri­alised.

“The ac­count was re­ceived some 25 days af­ter the read­ing. It was only posted on Novem­ber 4, 21 days af­ter the read­ing and four days af­ter mon­thend, which fur­ther de­layed my be­ing made aware of the ex­is­tence of a leak. There was an es­ti­mated read­ing, which, although they are en­ti­tled to do this, led to my not be­ing made aware of the prob­lem of a leak for over two months.

“I did not know­ingly use or al­low the wa­ter leak to go unchecked and acted with im­me­di­ate and ur­gent ef­fect the minute I was made aware of the sit­u­a­tion by re­ceiv­ing an ac­count. Nat­u­rally, had I had the op­por­tu­nity to have been made aware of this ear­lier, I would have been able to dras­ti­cally limit the ter­ri­ble waste of wa­ter and ac­com­pa­ny­ing huge fi­nan­cial cost,” he said.

Beck says he has been met with “com­plete hos­til­ity” and a to­tal re­luc­tance to even hear him out by city of­fi­cials.

“This is a mas­sive amount of money for us. I have, as an in­terim mea­sure, paid R15000 and to pay some of it off on a monthly ba­sis in an ef­fort to (pre­vent) them from cut­ting off my wa­ter, but I do feel very strongly about the is­sue and would re­ally like to take it fur­ther,” he said.

At­tor­ney Chantelle Glad­win said the city was en­ti­tled to charge a con­sumer for wa­ter us­ing es­ti­mated, rather than ac­tual, me­ter read­ings, for a pe­riod not ex­ceed­ing 60 days.

Glad­win said the city owned the wa­ter me­ter and the sup­ply from the street to the me­ter. The res­i­dent owned the pipes from the me­ter to and in­side the house.

The wa­ter leak could be along the pipes in the street be­fore the me­ter, in which case the bill prob­a­bly won’t in­crease; at the me­ter, in which case it could lead to an in­crease in the owner’s bill; or be­tween the me­ter and the house, in which case it would cause the bill to in­crease.

“The city is re­spon­si­ble for the wa­ter pipe be­tween the me­ter and the bound­ary wall of the con­sumer’s property and for the me­ter it­self,” Glad­win said. “The con­sumer is re­spon­si­ble for any wa­ter pipes lo­cated within the bound­aries of their property. It is the city’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate and stop a leak if it oc­curs at the me­ter, be­cause the me­ter is owned by the city and tam­per­ing with it is a crim­i­nal of­fence. The city is re­spon­si­ble for any leak be­tween the me­ter and the con­sumer’s bound­ary of the property but this will not nor­mally in­crease the con­sumer’s bill. It is the con­sumer’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate and stop a leak if it oc­curs within the bound­ary of their property.”

It was dif­fi­cult to say whether res­i­dents had a case against the city if the me­ter had not been read, she said.

“If cir­cum­stances are such that you would have be­come aware of the leak sooner if the city had taken reg­u­lar and ac­tual read­ings of the me­ter – or you tried to ob­tain your ac­counts to see how much you needed to pay, but they were not avail­able to you from the city’s call cen­tre – then an ar­gu­ment could be made that you… should not be li­able for the charges flow­ing from the leak.

“How­ever, this will be dealt with case by case. Although it’s pos­si­ble to ap­proach a court to com­pel the city to write off amounts billed for wa­ter in such cir­cum­stances, it’s not ad­vis­able for con­sumers to rely on the hope that this will hap­pen. It is far more pru­dent to take ev­ery pos­si­ble mea­sure to avoid be­ing caught with a ‘big bill’ for a leak, than to fight it.”

Joburg Wa­ter said me­ter read­ing was be­ing sta­bilised and that 89per­cent of prop­er­ties were vis­ited over the past two months.

Home own­ers have been warned to keep on eye on their wa­ter bills and me­ter read­ings to de­tect any pos­si­ble leaks early.

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