Treme man could owe S&WB $8,600 because of broken pipe despite months of complaints

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NEW ORLEANS — Just a few inches could mean the difference when it comes to who owes for a huge water bill.

A Treme man says he is facing a more than $8,000 water bill after a leak was discovered at his home. While the Sewerage and Water Board says the leak is the responsibility of the homeowner—since it was found on his private property — the customer claims he contacted the utility months ago when he noticed his bill continued to grow.

The customer, who doesn’t want to be identified, says his latest bill showed a past due balance of $7,507.93. He says he typically pays between $40 and $50 on the home he has owned for many years.

“They’re not professionals. Common sense would tell them if a single person resident has a high-water bill like that, they should know something is wrong,”he told WWL-TV News Anchor Charisse Gibson.

Receipts from previous bills show in November 2017, at the same home, he was paying just a little under $50 per month. When WWL-TV asked for a copy of his water bill over the past two year, we noticed a gradual increase on the balance. His last statement showed a current balance of $8,598.03.

“I called, I called, I called, and I constantly complained. They said it’s under investigation,” he said. “So, when I get the high-water bill, they told me we have another investigation going on.” 

A letter from the Sewerage and Water Board does acknowledge they received his request to review his account for possible billing errors and that the account was under investigation. The letter shows it was dated on April 26, 2019.

He says the S&WB has had this billing error under investigation for several months.

“They came back to say the bill this month is $2,000 but it’s on them. They owe me a lot of money for over two years because ever since they put that meter in there it started to have a high-water bill,” he said. 

Initially, he believed his meter was the root of the problem. WWL-TV found after he turned the water off to his home, the meter was still spinning, making the amount of water usage rise — even with the water shut off.

After WWL-TV reached out to the S&WB, to ask if he could possibly have a defect in his meter, an inspector visited the property the same day.

“They told me that something is wrong with the meter, they turned it over to the zone so apparently they are going to come out and put in a new meter.”

Not long after WWL-TV’s second visit to his home, we learned there would be another visit — this time from Fred Tharp, the Chief of Networks Administration from the Sewerage and Water Board.

After digging up the ground around the meter, Tharp revealed there was a leak on the property. Tharp says because the hole that was in the aging pipe was located on the homeowners’ side, just a few inches from the connector that separates what’s city property and private property, the customer was at fault.

According to the letter the customer received from the S&WB in April 2019, “If there is a leak on the customer side of the meter, 50 percent of the water and sewer volume charges will be adjusted upon receipt of a plumber’s statement of repairs, or receipts to show the repairs were completed.”

“Just like any other aged infrastructure, we have the same issues, as they get old, they fail,” says Tharp. “We get holes in pipes over time, all the time. They don’t last forever.”

S&WB officials say they want to help this customer by offering to fix the hole in his pipe. Now, the customer has to continue through the appeal’s process to fight the $8,598.03 bill.

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