CHICAGO — The city water department says it is owed more than $30 million for water bills. But is it? The 2 Investigators and The Better Government Association found errors in its list of deadbeat accounts and collection chaos for some consumers when it comes to calculating what’s owed. As Pam Zekman reports, all too often innocent people get hurt.
The cleaners at 1719 W. Augusta Blvd. doesn’t owe the water department a dime, but it has no water service. So, the manager, Terry Kang showed CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman the large tubs of water she keeps in the store to wash her hands.
The building owner tops the water department’s 2009 list of delinquent accounts, owing a whopping $173,000.
The owner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Strange, says it’s a mistake.
“It’s just deceptive. There’s no way they ran up $173,000,” Strange said.
An affidavit signed in 2008 by a water department official says the amount owed is really about $29,000.
The owner, Hadassah Corporation, is bankrupt, leaving the cleaners’ manager having to fill containers with water for basic needs.
The manager said the toilet doesn’t even work.
“We just pour the water here and then flush it,” Kang said.
At another location, CBS 2 found another big error. The delinquency list shows that the Department of Housing and Urban Development owns the building at 528 W. 120th St. and owes more than $15,000.
The real owner of the building is Bernice Shelton and she says, “My water bills are paid on time.”
Shelton bought the building nine years ago. At the closing, HUD says the water department settled its $6,000 lien for unpaid bills by the former owner for $10.
The city should have filed a release of the lien with the county, but did not. Now, Shelton could have trouble when she goes to sell the home.
CBS 2 also found other problems in current bills.
The owner of an apartment building at 1931-35 S. Homan says her water bills totaled about $2,000 a year until the city installed a new meter and remote reader.
Then Huda Haleem says she started getting some crazy bills. One gave her a credit of $21,813 credit. Another said her charges for two months of water service was $33,888. Both were errors.
“I would have to fill up the entire building with water to accumulate a bill like this.” Haleem said.
In response to her request, the city inspected and replaced her broken remote meter reader with a new electronic meter reader. Then, while trying to get an accurate bill, she was “completely outraged,” when the city sent her a collection warning.
Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association says she should be outraged.
“This is government run amok and Mayor Daley ought to find out who’s responsible for this and fix it,” Shaw said.
In response to CBS 2’s questions, City Water Commissioner John Spatz said Haleem’s case is an extreme example of problems the department had with older remote meter readers.
As for her billing errors, adjustments have been made. Spatz said that current usage bill for $33,888 bill, actually represented what the department believed she owed dating back to September 2007, when the meter reader stopped working properly and the department was sending her estimated bills.
But that amount has already been adjusted downward to $11,000. And his staff will meet with Haleem to discuss her continued issues with the bills.
Spatz said the lien on that HUD property will be released so the current homeowner will not have any problems when she sells it.
As for the top deadbeat, Spatz says their records show the bankrupt company does owe $173,000, but the city settled in court for $29,000. He says there is nothing he can do to help the cleaners that rents space there until there is a new owner and the water could be turned on again.