3.31.2011

peel water bill update

There's been a lot of activity in our battle over the bizarre water bill (background here and here), but unfortunately it all amounted to spinning our wheels in mud.

Allan made another round of phone calls and followed yet more trails: the City Manager's office, our MPP's office, the Commissioner of Public Works, the Ministry of Consumer Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. We got legal advice from lawyer friends, a lawyer where Allan works, and someone at the Mississagua legal aid clinic who was very generous with her time. We fielded more calls from Peel, asking to know "our decision," meaning, "Are you going to pay or do we shut off your water?"

People were variously shocked, sympathetic or buck-passing, but no one could actually help. It comes down to this: we say you used this water, so you owe us this money.

We had only one option left. We paid the bill and are now going to Small Claims Court to try to recover our money. It's a gamble, but we're willing to take it.

* * * *

It appears that Small Claims Court in Ontario is a much more structured and weighty system than it is in New York City. We hope so.

In New York, you're luckiest if the other party doesn't show (which happens frequently); then you win by default. If the defendant appears, it's a roll of the dice. A lawyer - volunteering in exchange for continuing education credit - hears the case. He or she may take the job seriously and fully listen to both sides, or may be annoyed and impatient by this waste of non-billable time, make a snap judgment and move on to the next case. Your case can be heard by a judge at your request, but it will be weeks or months until a judge is available... then the judge may be no better than the volunteer lawyer.

New York City Small Claims Court is effective for extremely simple, clear-cut cases, such as when someone has done work and not been paid. Many people use it for that - as we did once, long ago - and recover what they are owed, plus interest, plus court fees. For those cases, it works. But for anything even slightly more complex, it's a total crapshoot.

By all appearances, Ontario Small Claims Court seems to operate like an actual court system - but that impression is based only on the information on the website. We hope to file the suit on Monday. Who knows what adventure lies ahead.

6 comments:

Amy said...

Good luck. Are you going to handle it yourselves?

laura k said...

Thanks. Yes, we're going to represent ourselves. Supposedly SCC is set up to facilitate that. Hopefully our writing skills and our familiarity with what lawsuits look like will be enough.

I also know enough about what lawyers do to know how necessary they are. So this is a bit stressful.

Amy said...

I have confidence that you will do a good job of representing yourselves. At least in MA, small claims judges are expecting not to deal with attorneys and fully understand that the parties are not trained as lawyers. As long as you are prepared, calm, and articulate, your case seems straightforward enough not to need a lawyer. But that assumes, of course, no shenanigans by the water company and their lawyers...

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy, I really appreciate that. I'm expecting SCC to be same here. Also expecting crap from the other side!

johngoldfine said...

Having read your various letters, laura k, to the police, the backpack makers, and so on, not to mention your description of the backstory here, I think you will blow Peel out of the water.

laura k said...

Aw John, thank you!

Not for nothing I listed writing strong letters in my short list of personal strengths.

Amy is also assisting us with some behind-the-scenes legal help. The awesome power of the wmtc-JoS community!