Ways to Dispute High Water Bills

An unexpected increase in utilities bills can put a dent in your budget.

An unexpected increase in utilities bills can put a dent in your budget.

Water bills can fluctuate slightly from month to month, but a dramatic increase in your water bill over those of previous months warrants your attention. If your water usage has not changed substantially, you may choose to dispute the higher bill. Review your usage, check for leaks or meter problems and gather previous months' bills to support your case. Work with your local water provider to resolve the discrepancy.

Rule Out Leaks or Plumbing Problems

A leak can cause your water usage to jump. Do visual checks of toilets, sinks, showers and outdoor water connections to rule out obvious leaks. Ask the utility for a kit to test for hidden leaks in plumbing, or purchase one at a hardware store. If no leaks are discovered, request a review of the bill. Have your previous months' bills available for reference. Be prepared to request a specific action -- such as a reduction of the excessive bill to your average rate or an investigation by authorized personnel.

Review Monthly Usage

A jump in your water bill may reflect actual changes in usage. Your bill should return to normal when the usage drops back down. If the high bill does not coincide with a period of increased usage, work with the utility to resolve the discrepancy. Be prepared to show previous months' bills, canceled checks and meter readings. Look at a recent bill to find the phone number and mailing address for disputed residential bills and follow the instructions for filing a complaint. You may be required to request an investigation in writing, describing why you think the bill is incorrect and providing documentation supporting your claim.

Request Meter Checks

Jumps in water bills may be caused by faulty meters or human error. If you have ruled out increased usage and have found no leaks, request a check of the meter to ensure it is functioning properly. A malfunctioning meter may be the problem. Request that an experienced meter reader perform additional, more frequent readings for a period of time to allow you to compare actual usage with what the meter indicates.

Make a Good Faith Payment

During an investigation the utility will continue to bill you for ongoing usage and may charge a late fee for any amount due but not paid. You might be asked to make a good faith payment comparable to the average monthly amount you paid in the months preceding the disputed period. If the investigation into the disputed bill determines you are at fault, you likely will be required to pay the the full amount and late fees accrued during the investigation. If the utility is at fault, pay only the actual, reduced monthly bill for the disputed month and insist that any late charges be removed from your account.

Request Outside Help

If you have no luck dealing directly with the utility and you have ruled out leaks, excessive usage and a faulty meter, you may need to request intervention by a third party. Your utility may refer you to a customer dispute mediator, but you may also contact your state's public utilities commission or attorney general's office to request assistance. In extreme cases, a local news organization's consumer advocate might agree to examine the issue. In all cases, keep copies of all written documentation to support your claim and as proof of what has transpired during the disputed period.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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