Can a Condo Association Demand Bulk-Rate Water Billing?
If you feel your association is being overcharged for water service, there are steps you can take toward resolving the problem.
Q. We are a condominium association receiving water from a utility company that bills each individual condo. Most owners occupy their units for only four to six months of the year. The piping is intertwined, and there are no water meters, so there is no true way to determine who is using the water. The result is that many owners are charged even when their unit is vacant. The extra service charge over and above the water and sewer fees makes their bills excessive. Is there a law that allows condominium associations to demand bulk-rate water billing?
A. This flat-rate water utility billing is common for associations with the piping setup you’ve described. There are two answers to your question, depending on whether the private utility company is governed by the state public utilities commissioner or is a private utility with its own board of directors and/or city council.
Solution 1: Public utilities commissioner
If the utility company is governed by the state public utilities commissioner, the utility will have had to file tariffs, policies, and procedures — rules and regulations that outline its billing procedures and billing procedure options. You can obtain a copy of this documentation from the Public Utilities Commissioner.
You can also file an “informal complaint” that details the situation you’ve described. If you file an informal complaint, we recommend sending it certified mail with return receipt requested. You’ll also want to include any pertinent account numbers and service address(es) in your complaint. Once your complaint is received, the public utilities commissioner will assign a service representative to investigate your complaint. In most cases, within eight to ten weeks you will receive a written response either granting or denying your request.
Be aware that your complaint and request could be denied if the service representative finds that the utility company is compliant with the billing procedures they filed with the state public utilities commissioner. Should this occur, you can file a new informal complaint requesting that the association either be master-metered or individually metered for future billing purposes. The state will again assign a service representative to investigate your request and respond accordingly.
Solution 2: Board of directors or city council
If the utility company is governed by its own board of directors and/or the local city council, you will instead file a claim form against the water company. Your claim will be discussed at an upcoming board or city council meeting. You’ll want to make a point of attending the meeting when your claim is scheduled to be heard, so that you can make an argument for your case. Your claim will either be granted or denied. If your claim is denied, the only appeal for this kind of denial is to file a lawsuit.
Have a utility billing question? Email Erin at Pacific Utility Audit. You might see it published in a future issue of the Utility Audit Advisor!