3.07.2011

water bill woes continue. help needed. really really needed.

Back in October, I posted about a very strange water bill we received from the Region of Peel. Our three-month bill usually runs around $60, representing 4Ms or a maximum of 5Ms of water. This bill was almost $500, representing 38Ms of water.

In other words, Peel is saying that we used almost two years' worth of water in a three-month period.

We have been fighting this for months, without success, and Peel is now threatening to shut off our water.

Here's what we've done so far:

1. Paid a portion of the bill equivalent to the high end of a normal bill

2. Spoken to our landlord, who was shocked. He's never seen anything like this.

3. Spoken endlessly to a manager at Region of Peel.

4. Had Peel Water inspectors come to the house - twice. Once they obsessed over one toilet, the second time they obsessed over the second one. First they said the toilet chain was 1/8-inch too long. Then they said it was 1/8-inch too short.

However, the toilet is not running and has never been running. We have not changed anything on the toilet at all, and our water bills have returned to normal. In addition, the water inspector told us that there's no way these toilet-chain lengths could have caused this problem. Unfortunately, she said this verbally and did not put that statement in writing.

5. Spoke to our City Councillor's office - twice. They called Peel and had our case bumped up to a manager, so we don't have to go through customer service each time. They said there's nothing else they can do.

6. Called the City Manager of Mississauga's office. They also offered to call Peel on our behalf, but only to see if there's someone else there we can deal with. They made it clear they can't fix the problem.

7. Called the Ontario Ombudsman's office. They are a great agency that gets results, but unfortunately, this falls outside their jurisdiction.

8. Called Mississauga Legal Aid. They said they don't handle things like this, and suggested we call Peel's legal department. Allan did that... and they referred it to the same manager we've been speaking with.

We did not have the meter checked. As the Ontario Ombudsman suggested, having the meter checked can only determine if it is working properly at the time it is checked. We already know the meter is working properly right now, because we've received a normal bill subsequent to the abnormal one. But the meter working properly today does not mean it was working properly in July, August and September of 2010.

In addition, Peel can't tell us when during the three-month period this two-years' worth of water was supposedly used. Did it happen in a day? A week? A month? Was it during the week, when one of us is home every day? Did it occur on a Saturday, when we work 12 hour shifts, then somehow repair itself before we got home? We don't know.

Allan's been handling the lion's share of this effort, but now we are both out of ideas. We don't have $500 to give to the Region of Peel for services we didn't use, but Peel will use hold us hostage for the payment by cutting off our water.

All ideas welcome.

19 comments:

AtB B and B said...

Hi L & A-

Sorry to hear that this is still dragging on. About all I can suggest is to see if there is a Consumer Advocate columnist in some paper to look into matters. Since everyone is passing the buck, maybe a little public exposure/embarrassment could get some results?

Best,
E&K

laura k said...

Hi E&K :)

I agree, it's time to get media involved. I hope someone will be interested without an actual water shut-off. That would be sexier for a column or TV story but not very good on our end.

laura k said...

6. Called the City Manager of Mississauga's office. They also offered to call Peel on our behalf, but only to see if there's someone else there we can deal with.

Manager of billing department! That's not going to help.

Amy said...

I don't know anything about how these things work in Canada, but is there something like an attorney general's office which handles consumer complaints? I assume you have checked so probably a silly question. Are there any consumer protection statutes that prevent cutting off essential services without a full hearing? Do you know any lawyers up there who handle consumer issues?

Cool Hand Luke said...

Try contacting Allan Thompson http://www.peelregion.ca/council/councill/thompson.htm and Ron star's http://www.peelregion.ca/council/councill/starr.htm office. They are the chair and vice chair for public works. See if they can look into the issue for you. That would be my suggestion.

laura k said...

@Amy, we haven't checked on statutes re due process on cutting off our water. Obviously we have to learn about that but haven't yet.

Haven't checked on solicitor general's office - I'm not sure what that could do. Tell me more?

We've asked a lawyer-friend for advice, she spoke to another lawyer-friend who knows more about municipal matters. He suggested paying the bill, then going to small claims court to recover the amount. Seems kind of dicey to me.

I do think we need legal representation - that's why we called legal aid - but so far we're just in the advice gathering stage.

@CHL, thank you very much for those names. Our own city councillor did diddly-squat - or actually, his assistant did that - he personally did nothing. Perhaps these city councillors can offer something.

laura k said...

And thank you, Amy.

(posted too soon)

Amy said...

I am not sure what your solicitor general's office does, but in MA, the attorney general's office has a consumer complaints division that handles complaints such as this. I wish I knew how to research Canadian law. If I can figure it out, I will see what I can find.

laura k said...

Amy, that's great. We'll look into it. Thanks again.

laura k said...

I found the Office of Consumer Affairs, part of Industry Canada. It seems an unlikely, but who knows.

johngoldfine said...

One possible plus of going public is that you might flush out (sorry) some similar stories from other unhappy water users. Peel may be sitting on a clear pattern of identical problems but stonewalling each one as a sui generis deal.

Amy said...

I am afraid my ignorance of the Canadian legal system makes it very difficult to try and research the question of what rights you may have to challenge your bill and stop the utility from cutting off your service during that challenge. Sorry...I think you need a Canadian lawyer!

laura k said...

@JohnGoldfine, that's what we're thinking, too. I haven't seen anything online about it, but that doesn't mean it's not out there.

@Amy, yes, I agree. Allan's going to talk to someone where he works, maybe they can give us some advice.

I'm also going to pursue Cool Hand Luke's suggestion, and see what the Consumer Affairs office has to offer.

This has been simmering on the back burner for a while, but now we need a rolling boil!

geek guy said...

you may want to try this
http://www.cbc.ca/thenational/indep
thanalysis/gopublic/

also see what they say if you refuse/dispute that one bad bill
only do that if you have pad all the others!!..

I would get your meter inspected
may be useful in a legal case!!

laura k said...

We have paid all our other bills on time and fully. That doesn't matter, unfortunately.

Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

richard said...

Water Bill Mystery Solved

(Funny but not really helpful!)

http://bit.ly/gKeCFd

laura k said...

Let me guess... cat flushing toilet?

richard said...

Good guess, Laura.

I guess I just don't spend much time on youtube. Stuff like this still seems novel to me. Thats a good thing, right? :-)

Seriously, I can't imagine how frustrating/infuriating your problem must be. Hope it gets resolved soon.

The solution might be to move to a really small town like the one in which I live. Here the water meter guy is also a guy you see everyday at the post office, the grocery store or the PAC meeting. Problems like this tend to be more quickly solved when you're more than just an account number.

laura k said...

Heh, thanks. Seems like a good solution - moving! :)

I'm usually the last to see YouTube phenom, but many readers sent me this one!