Watch out for water leaks to avoid shocking bills
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 R83817, 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 con- sumer’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 89 percent 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.