Water Bill Jumps From $62 To $1,400. Will Cost $180 To Have Meter Inspected

When your quarterly water bill goes up a few thousand percent after the city installs a new meter at your house, you’d think the utilities folks would want to take a look at that meter because it’s either broken or your house is about to float away. But not in New York City, where it will cost you $180 just for the privilege of having that meter inspected by a human being.

CBS New York has the story of a city resident whose house was fitted with one of the new smart meters, and whose water bill soon jumped from a very manageable $62/quarter to more than $1,400.

“Am I paying a mortgage here?” she asks. “Because that’s what it sounds like me: I’m paying a mortgage. $1,400 to pay for water, come on.”

The city’s Public Advocate Bill de Blasio says his office has received hundreds of complaints since the city began installing the new meters.

“[I]t makes me very angry to think about a hard-working homeowner, who’s doing everything right, playing by the rules, and the city shows up with a huge additional bill,” he tells CBS. “There are so many New Yorkers who could not put together $180 to appeal their case.”

A rep for the city’s Dept. of Environmental Protection defends the meters, in spite of evidence to the contrary:

The new wireless meter readers are providing accurate data… In fact, [the DEP] has seen no significant change in the number of bill disputes since these transmitters started to be installed.

CBS 2 Exclusive: New Yorkers Complain The City’s New Water Meters Overcharge Massively [CBS NY]


Edit Your Comment

  1. shepd says:

    Too bad it’s usually illegal to compete with the city for water service. Even if you just do that by installing your own well. :(

    • mobiuschic42 says:

      …where would you install a well in New York City? I don’t think you would even *want* to use the groundwater, even if there was a way to drill a well.

    • Necoras says:

      Wells are quite common in Texas. My aunt and uncle have one and saw their water bill cut in half because of it.

      • shepd says:

        They’re common around here as well, if you’re not on city land. Step over the magic line to where there’s water service and they’re illegal. The city says it’s for public safety. Odd that one side of the street has good water and the other side is poisoned around the entire city. :)

        And my city isn’t the only one like this, I don’t know of any larger cities around here that let you compete unless your property was on a well BEFORE the city started selling water.

  2. Hi_Hello says:

    Easy. ‘fix’ the meter. Pay the 1,200 and you’ll bill we be very very low for the rest of your current stay sice nobody will inspect unless you pay for an inspection.

    • Rena says:

      Something gives me the idea they’d waive the inspection fee, and the need to set up an appointment, if his usage suddenly plummeted.

  3. nybiker says:

    I live in NYC too and I have one of the new meters (since July 2010). Even with the original meters, I used to note the value every few days. When the bill arrived, I would compare my notes to the bill’s indicated usage. Same with the electric meter and the oil tank’s remaining supply. Neither the old nor the new water meters were mis-read. Now, if the internal calibration is wrong, well, then that might explain the huge increase the OP is experiencing.

    One nice thing about the meters is that you can log in to your account and see your usage as of the most recent update (usually the day before). You can also subscribe to alerts that indicate a large increase in water usage (as in you’ve sprung a leak somewhere).

    • clippy2.0 says:

      How much water would you estimate 1400 to be? It seems like if you had a bill like that, you would know it was coming, or there is an error with the reading

      • nybiker says:

        Well, they charge $3.17 per hundred cubic feet of water. Then they add 159% of the water charge as a sewer charge. 159% of 3.17 = $5.04.
        171 HCF of water will come out to $1,403.96.

        For comparison, I used 15 HCF in my last period. 171 HCF is a lot of water. Or else one hell of a mis-read.

        • lostdisk says:

          Ok, so lets do the math here…

          If they used the 17100 Cubic Feet… that is about 128,000 Gallons of water for 3 months.
          That comes out to be a little less than 43,000 Gallons used a month.
          Now, we will say each month has 30 days (again, to make things simple)…
          That comes out to be about 1,400 Gallons a day…
          which comes out to be about 41 Gallons an hour…
          And that is less than 1 Gallon a minute.

          A leaky toilette can easily use up to 3 or 4 Gallons per minute…

          • Joseph S Ragman says:

            …. a constantly running toilet can easily use up to 3 or 4 Gallons per minute …

            … fixed that for you.

    • lostdisk says:

      My guess is their old meter was the problem, and they didn’t even know it. Even if the old meter was working correctly, a new meter will typically have an increase in water consumption due to it being more accurate. The meter’s loose accuracy over time, typically in favor of the consumer.

  4. Cat says:

    “Smart meters”. I wouldn’t trust them, anyway.

    I won’t buy anything with “Smart” as part of the name –

    Smart Car? Only 2 seats, only 38 MPG, (a 4 seat Geo Metrogot 50!) and base model around $13,000? For $13,000, I can get a 4 seat car that approaches 40 MPG. NO THANKS!

    Smart Water? Water with a fractional penny of vitamins for $2 a bottle? Yea, right!

    Smart Food? popcorn with cheese powder in a bag, 5 ounces for $3? Really?

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Hey, I can go better! There’s a “smart meter” charge on our electric bills even though nobody has one!

    • SexCpotatoes says:

      You forgot to mention the stupidest part! THE SMART CAR REQUIRES PREMIUM FUEL! Which contains more energy, and yet you can ONLY get 38 mpg?!?!

    • MathMan aka Random Talker says:

      What kind of cell phone do you use? …. Droid, iPhone… any other that can surf the internet and would be labeled “smart”? hmmm….

      • DarthCoven says:

        Smart phone is the type of device, not part of the name. It’s not a “Smart Droid” or a “Smart iPhone”. It’s a Droid or an iPhone.

  5. atthec44 says:

    “In fact, [the DEP] has seen no significant change in the number of bill disputes since these transmitters started to be installed.”

    Shouldn’t new technology result in a significant reduction in bill disputes?

    • ajaxd says:

      I live in NYC and have one of these devices. The idea was to save money by not having to send a human reader to each residence to read the meter – that was accomplished. The meter itself is the same old meter it just transmits data remotely. If the meter is malfunctioning it wouldn’t matter under either system.

  6. teke367 says:

    Is it $180 no matter what? Or only if the meter shows to be working properly? Each time I have to call about my cable box not working, they always give me a heads up that if the box is fine, I get charged for the visit.

    I have to imagine if they see thei box is broken, they couldn’t legally charge you to fix it, could they?

  7. Sean says:

    I would never do this (informational purposes only). Easy way to get someone to come out and check the meter: Put a Faraday cage over the transmitter. The city will be unable to read the meter and will send someone out to check out the meter.

    • Cat says:

      Yep. They’ll remove the cage, and arrest you for tampering.

      And THEN charge you $180.

      • Cat says:

        Oh, yea – when you get home, they still won’t have the meter fixed, because all the will do is remove the cage.

    • LanMan04 says:

      Just smash it with a hammer and say some hooligans did it (assuming it’s outside).

    • lostdisk says:

      Just cut away at the wire… but try to do it like an animal was chewing it… That way they have to come out and check on the meter because of the broken wire, and will at least have to check the transmitter to reset it.

  8. kobresia says:

    Only $62 every three months for their water bill, in NYC?

    I suspect the issue is not that the new meter is inaccurate (though $1400 is pretty high), but rather, the old meter was sticky and not properly registering water usage.

    Also, the amount of the bill is pretty irrelevant. What matters is how many gallons of water they’re being billed for, at what rate per thousand gallons. The video/article are very shoddy journalism for not bothering to explain. Did the people go from something implausibly low like 200 gallons/month on average, to an implausibly high 20,000 gallons/month? Have they assessed their weekly water usage and verified they don’t have leaks in toilets and such?

    After they go through the appropriate problem determination (including analyzing how their water usage is being logged through their accounts online), and determine that their meter, is, in fact, broken, surely there must be someone they could present real evidence to in order to get out of the inspection charge.

    • RandomLetters says:

      In NYC water is $3.17 per 100cf (748Gal). If you use $62 in three months thats about $0.69 per day for water. Thats about 170 gallons of water per day usage. I can see a one or two person house using that much on a daily average over three months. For three months at $1400 you’re using $15.56 per day of about 3890 gallons per day. If you happen to have a pool you drain and refill every single day maybe you could use this much water in three months.

      • kobresia says:

        That seems like a really great rate for municipal water. While part of that bill might be an over-usage penalty rate, it seems as though it would still take an outlandish volume of water to reach that threshold. Bet their meter serial numbers got entered incorrectly or something and they’re getting billed for an entire hotel or office building or something. It would have to be one defective meter in order to be off by well over an order of magnitude.

        The only utilities I have are gas and electricity where I live, both of my statements include my meters’ numbers. Do your water accounts show your meter number the reading was taken from as well? It seems like rather than freaking-out, those folks’ best approach would just be to locate the meter and make sure the number they’re paying for is the same as the one connected to their water service.

      • lostdisk says:

        A leak in the home is enough to do it…
        A leak of 3/4 of a gallon per minute or .15 Cubic Feet per minute, over 3 months can increase your usage almost 100,000 gallons, or about 131 hundreds of cubic feet!

      • nybiker says:

        Remember, the $62 bill includes the ‘sewer’ fee of 159% of the water usage. So, as to the number of gallons or cubic feet of water being used, it’s even less.

    • nybiker says:

      I haven’t watched the video yet (I suspect that CBS sticks an ad in front of it), but as I noted in a different comment, we here in NYC are billed by the hundred-cubic-feet of water. And that’s been the way for years. All that’s happened in the past couple of years is the installation of these new meters. But your points are spot-on. For $62 per quarter, they must live in a small apartment or condo that has a separate water meter. A house I would suspect would use more water (or at least be subject to the minimum charge by the DEP). My bill was a little over $100 for the bill in January and I used 15 HCF and it was considered a minimum usage bill.

      • kobresia says:

        The video did have an ad and was otherwise useless, the text of the article at the link is a transcript– there aren’t any details whatsoever. So yeah, sounds like a broken meter or mixup, since the rate you all have don’t seem exorbitant at all.

  9. Gorbachev says:

    I’m sure they haven’t seen any significant change in the number of bill disputes, if it takes $180 to even attempt to resolve them.


  10. ECA says:

    I will GUESS what happened..

    They DIDNT finalize the First meter for its LAST reading, before the installation of the NEW meter.
    You have a meter starting at 10,000 and ends the time at 10,500, then the NEW METER reads 100,000 or SOME OTHER NUMBER…
    OR the meters read differently..as the OLD meters count 10’s..

  11. fsnuffer says:

    To be accurate, they are not replacing the old meters just attaching a new face and a transmitter. 95% of the old meter is still the same.

  12. cynner says:

    We’ve been seeing this sort of thing in California, too. PG&E has been replacing all of it’s gas and electric meters with Smart Meters and some people saw their bills go waaaaay up.

    The tinfoil hat crowd has refused to get the new meters, and PG&E is charging them an extra monthly fee to keep their old analog meters. :P

  13. crb042 says:

    The frightening thing is, if hundreds of meters are off by enough of a margin to be noticed, how many of the other meters are off by a smaller margin that’s not easily noticed?
    If you have 1,000 complaints of double the normal bill or more, can you expect there may be 1,000 broken meters that are off by ~20% and people are overpaying not realizing the meter is bad?

  14. HammRadio says:

    I’ll never understand why built into these billing system isn’t some sort of Exceptions Audit, that will flag bills that are significantly different than your previous months or on average.

    Its simple to code this into a system and would be customer friendly. I get not caring. But you could reduce your costs in handling billing disputes by heading them off at the pass. Not to mention it would be customer friendly. cell phone companies have sort of tried to be more “friendly” in this… alerting you if you are close to overages in minutes/messages and will even analyze your usage to move you to a reasonable plan.

    For a public utility it should be mandatory.

    • lostdisk says:

      There is!!! You act like the people who are doing your utility billing are smart enough to use them or know how to. Most of the people I deal with hardly know how to turn a computer on, and you expect them to know about and use a report that shows Higher or Lower amounts of consumption for the customer?

  15. gman863 says:

    $180? Get real!

    On smart electric meters in Texas, the law states you are entitled to one free inspection every four years. If the meter is defective, it doesn’t count as your one free shot – and, if any subsequent tests you pay for indicate an error, your test fee is refunded.

  16. GrandizerGo says:

    62 dollars a quarter??? Wow, that is nice. I am about 2X that amount. Maybe more.

  17. Sad Sam says:

    We don’t have the smart meters yet in our small city, but we do have dome meter readers and once we got a bill for $2000 (I can’t remember if it was water, electric or something else as our bills are combined). There is supposed to be a system in place to catch bills that are wildly out of synch before they go out so that they will recheck. That system didn’t work but the bill was quickly fixed. I’ve kept a copy of the bill just in case I need same as Exhibit A when dealing with my City utility dept. I’ve also had other bills that were estimated but the bill wasn’t marked estimated (as required) and I’ve had other bills way off. It got so bad for a while that I was taking the bill out back to compare to the electric meter and to the water meter the day it arrived and the numbers on the bill were still way off in the future on the meters. Things have gotten better but I imagine most people don’t pay attention the way I do.

  18. soj4life says:

    With 8 million people living in nyc, of course they won’t see a significant increase. Also a bill spike that high should have set off some alerts, least of which that there could a huge leak somewhere.