A Red Tape Report released today by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio exposes overbilling and technical errors caused by new Automated Water Meter Readers being installed by the Department of Environmental Protection. While the technology promises to streamline the billing process and save money in the long-term, nearly 150 cases received by the Public Advocate’s office show sharp, unexplained cost spikes for home and business owners after installation of the new readers—some as high as $50,000. The Red Tape Report tracks how customers contesting unwarranted charges face a months-long appeals process and are hit with late fees and liens on their property—even before the City decides their case. De Blasio is calling for the City to rule out technical problems up front, and halt any penalties until after an appeal.
“City Hall would rather believe a homeowner has been filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the backyard than admit to a mistake,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We cannot leave businesses and homeowners on the hook for these screw-ups and then bully people into paying with late fees and liens. It’s just not right.”
“Not only do we have runaway water rates but, time after time, constituents have contacted my office complaining about water bills that don't make sense. Some are so high they defy imagination,” said Council Member James Vacca. “And they are given little recourse to fight back because it is the city's word against theirs. Often these are seniors who studiously conserve water and don't use much water to begin with. There is no question that the new automated meter readers have caused major problems and make raising water rates even more outrageous.”
The Red Tape Report examined cases included a family-owned laundromat in Sheepshead Bay that saw its bill skyrocket from $5,000 to $50,000 after an automated meter reader was installed. A retired homeowner in Richmond Hill saw her $70 bill increase to $1,200. In both cases, the City blamed the changes on leaks, despite written evidence from plumbers that no leak was present. Public Advocate de Blasio is calling on the Department of Environmental Protection to cut red tape so businesses and homeowners are not held responsible for technical problems. He has called on the City to:
1) Eliminate the possibility of technical error before charges are paid. Save ratepayers time and taxpayers frustration by immediately dispatching an inspector when a water bill increases by over 100% after the installation of an automated meter reader.
2) Don’t bully customers into paying charges they don’t owe. To ensure New Yorkers have a fair shot at challenging their bills, the City should not assess late fees or threaten a lien on a property during an appeal.
3) Put water bills in plain, easy-to-understand language. The DEP should replace the confusing “cancellations” and “re-billings” with easy to understand language that explains why past bills are being revised and increased because of the new meter readers.
Read the Red Tape Report: www.advocate.nyc.gov/redtape