Water Company Wants Me To Pay $30 To Activate Service I Already Have

A few years back, after the death of her parents, Consumerist reader Jen took over the running of the house in which she’d grown up. Since then, she’s been paying the bills without problem. But now the water company wants her to pay $30 simply to change the name on the account.

The problem began when Jen recently received a phone call from a Pennsylvania American Water rep looking to speak to her father. She explained to the caller that her father had passed away, but she had taken over paying the bill.

“The woman told me that due to some new laws, she can’t speak to me,” writes Jen. “When I told her the situation, she immediately tells me that she’s turning off my water service because he cannot be billed, and that I must pay a $30 fee to activate service in my name.”

Jen tried to plead her case to a second rep for the water company, but was once again told that it was beyond anyone’s ability to waive the fee and that all “new” customers have to pay this fee.

“I have been paying this bill for three years,” writes Jen. “The only reason I need to change the name on the account is because Some Collections Lady Said So, leaving me stuck paying a fee because my father had the audacity to die.”

Jen recently launched an Executive E-mail Carpet Bomb aimed at getting her case in front of the company’s top suits. We have also written to the company’s media contacts to see if we can get an explanation as to why this fee can’t be waived — and why it would cost $30 merely to change the name on an account.

UPDATE: Jen tells us that after her story appeared on Consumerist she received a call from someone at the water company to let her know that the fee is being waived for her.

We still don’t have an explanation from the company as to why it charges $30 to change the name on an account.


Edit Your Comment

  1. oldwiz65 says:

    I would just pay it. It’s not worth the hassle of trying to avoid it.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      It’s because of people like you that we have so many stupid people at water companies and other places that try to shake use down for $30 here, another $30 there, when the actual cost of putting a new name in a computer is about 30 cents.

    • gunman says:

      this matter is only for people with ‘principles”… it’s not for push-overs like you.

  2. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Pay the $30 but just never pay the last bill in your dad’s name? Or get JUST even and leave exactly $30 on that account. It would be nearly impossible to collect.

  3. classicxl2 says:

    IF your dad died then a water bill is most likely unsecured just don’t pay that last bill and start new service..

    • Velvet Jones says:

      Doesn’t work in PA. PUCs can put a lien on the property. PAAW is run by morons. They’re definitely one of the dumbest companies I’ve ever dealt with.

      • Psychicsword says:

        Can they do that even if the house has already been moved from the Estate to the Daughter’s name or can do they only do that if it is owned by the Estate?

      • Oh_No84 says:

        How can they put a lien on property that has not been owned by the account holder for 3 years??

        Anyways, they need to contact the local news and their congressman.
        Congessmen love making a call to fix these easy problems for street cred.

        • NanoDog says:

          They can lien the property because they’ve been supplying water to the property for whatever length of time… the bill and service “run with the land”… true in lots of states, and your legislators made it that way.

  4. BradC says:

    It’s not just changing a name, it’s making a new person legally responsible for the bill. Honestly, $30 is a pretty good deal. Around here it’s $65 and a $300 deposit.

    • Difdi says:

      The reason for a deposit on a new account is to cover the company in the case of a deadbeat who uses the service then doesn’t pay.

      But the OP has been paying for three years now. It’s not a new account.

      • JJFIII says:

        Actually, no, she SAYS she has been paying it, but credit wise her father has been paying it. It is like if your dad buys you a car. You make the loan payment, but your name is nowhere on the loan documents. That does NOTHING to help your credit.

      • rdm says:

        Is it a deposit or a fee? It doesn’t say anything about it being a deposit.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      No, its just changing a name in the computer.

  5. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    “….because Some Collections Lady Said So”
    If a bill was unpaid and it went to Collections then yes I can see why they are charging to change the name on the account.

  6. Glioma says:

    Why do they charge $30 to merely change the name on an account? Because they can.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      You can’t just change the name on a credit card. A water bill is a credit account.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        It’s a row in a database in a computer. It’s not a credit card. It’s an account.

        • MuleHeadJoe says:

          processes and procedures … companies have them.

          If the system allows it, anybody could change “just a row in a database in a computer”, sure, but guess what? I’m pretty confident that the system / rules / business procedures / processes DO NOT allow it. There’re reasons, both technical and business, why this could / would / should be so.

          To prevent fraud & other bullcrap, to change a name on an account most companies require you to jump through certain procedural hoops, and as much as those hoops are irritating to the customer, they still require time & effort on the part of company employees. The company has no incentive to swallow that cost, and so charges you a fee for that service. I’m not saying the fee is “right” or “good” … just saying that it’s understandable.

          Besides, do you really want a utility company to take the word of random callers whom they cannot verify are who they say they are and have the legal authority to change account data to simply say ‘change the name on this account from XX to YY’ ? So your neighbor’s practical joker son calls them every other week to get your utility bills changed into various other people’s names? That seems like a foolish position to take, in my view.

  7. pgr says:

    What would one expect from a state that wants to stop citizens from voting (unless they are registered Rebublican, of course)!

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Yes, because by your logic only Democrats are too stupid and lazy to get a photo ID.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        The Democrats are too busy working three jobs to get an ID, because the Republicans stole all their money when the market collapsed.

      • AstroPig7 says:

        Stupidity and laziness have nothing to do with it. Some areas have absurd requirements for getting a driver’s licence or similar photo I.D. An acquaintance who recently moved to Montana spent a month getting a driver’s licence.

        The DMV was nowhere near the bus routes, so they needed a car or access to one. (Obviously, someone seeking a driver’s licence would likely have a vehicle, but if the licence is simply for photo I.D., then this is not a given.)
        They needed a computer or access to free Internet, since licences were only granted by appointment and appointments could only be made online.
        They needed a piece of mail from a physical address (not a P.O. box). This was not a clearly marked requirement, so more than one appointment had to be made.
        They needed two forms of photo I.D. This alone would have prevented anyone trying to get photo I.D.

        For just a bloody photo I.D., the applicant might not even have the forms readily available to them. That’s a lot of wasted of time and effort for someone who has trouble getting around (the elderly) or someone working many hours to make ends meet (certain poor).

        • Smeagle says:

          Two forms of ID would be a birth certificate, social security card, green card, some work IDs, or various others. My DMV has even been known to accept yearbooks as valid.

          Plus, all of your (ridiculous) hurdles that prevent someone from getting an ID would surely apply to everyone. Not just democrats. So the idea that voter ID laws somehow target democratic voters specifically is absurd. Lovesmypets00’s point stands.

          Granted, for a democrat, getting a valid photo ID might be more difficult than registering to vote. But that is only because driver’s licence are not usually issued to the dead, or your pets.

        • MuleHeadJoe says:

          I understand a little bit about the frustration given the catch-22 situation you describe.

          HOWEVER (and perhaps this is just a California thing?) I am utterly mystified about how ANYBODY gets to adulthood in this nation without a photo ID. I wasn’t even an adult when I got my driver’s license WITH A PHOTO on it.

          In Cali they never required photo ID to GET a photo ID … they DID however require either a social security card or a birth certificate (don’t really remember which it was at the time). Also in Cali, you can get a state-issued photo ID that is NOT a driver’s license. Guess where you get it from? The DMV :-D

          • AstroPig7 says:

            Check out the requirements for getting a photo I.D. that isn’t a driver’s licence in Pennsylvania (cited for relevance). By the standards of a functioning adult with documentation in order and time to take off to get one, they’re simple to get. By the standards of someone who might not have a copy of their Social Security card, who might be ill-informed about how to get certain documents, who might not have the leisure to take off a lot of time from work, who might not have transportation… well, you see where I’m going with this.

            I’m not saying it’s impossible to get photo I.D., but for people who moved to a new state and never picked up a new one, people who have expired I.D. and no need to renew them, and people in similar situations, it can be problematic.

          • AstroPig7 says:

            Also, how many times have you needed to present a photo I.D.? Aside from verifying my identity when using a credit card, I’ve rarely had to present mine. It’s conceivable someone might never have a reason to show photo I.D., especially if they don’t have a car. My friend in Boston has never had a driver’s licence, and she gets around just fine.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        Things have been working fine so far without photo IDs. The law change is too sudden for everyone to get a photo ID right now.

        • Smeagle says:

          really, because I have seen a rash of videos where people have gotten other people’s ballots just by asking for them.

  8. Smiling says:

    She was using her dead father’s water account? That seems like it could be illegal, even if she was paying the bill every month becasue there isn’t a living person who can be held responsible for the bill. I think they are in the right in wanting to put the account in her name. I don’t know about the fee though. Seems a little smarmy to charge a fee to activate water that is already on. Maybe there are fees incurred by them in setting up an account in someone else’s name??

    • GodfreyOriole says:

      I think you might be right. I say pay the $30 before the water company reports her for doing something that could be ilegal. $30 is cheaper then jail and lawyer fees.

  9. PaulR says:

    Aahhh, private water companies…

    “Pennsylvania American Water is the largest investor-owned water utility in the state…” as opposed to a citizen-owned water utility.

    If they try to privatize the water where I live, again, I’ll be assaulting the municipal electees.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i’m on a private water company because i am on a community well. and it’s much better run than the city water company with less hassle for billing and lower administration fees.

      • AustinTXProgrammer says:

        My water company is technically a coop. I have the cheapest water around. Now there is an investor owned utility a few miles from me that wants to charge people over $100 a month for water and sewer before they use the first drop.

        I think the law guarantees them a 5% profit margin and is structured so there is virtually no risk to the investors (people can’t just go without water and there is no competition).

  10. ninram says:

    Same thing happened to me after my Father passed. I contacted the Los Angeles DWP too change my name so I cold receive some rebates, and be able to talk to a CSR.
    I was charged a new account fee.
    Once I received the bill, I noticed an error. Call a CSR and explained the error, not only did she fix it ,but when she noticed I was charged a fee to change the account because my Father passed, she reversed it. There are some kind people out there in CSR land.

  11. NorthAlabama says:

    wow, what a way to show your “thoughts and prayers” are with the deceased’s family…shut off their water, and make them sign up as new customers at the same address.

    and corporations are people? who would ever choose to be near any people who acted like this!

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      Um, its three year later… but I suppose it’s never too late to say your “thoughts and prayers” are with the deceased’s family.

  12. VHSer says:

    It’s not that much money. I don’t see the problem.

  13. JJFIII says:

    I have no sympathy for the OP whatsoever. Let’s say this were a credit card (the water company is extending her credit). She continues to buy things on the card and pay it. She does nto have a right to do that. If there are other siblings, she is actually fucking with the estate. There are reasons it is REQUIRED that you inform creditors that a person dies. Tell the OP to put on her big girl panties and put the bill in her own name. It seems to me, the only reason the water company “collection” person called was because the bill is late.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      I agree she should have informed the water company about the death as soon as possible. However, $30 to send someone out to turn the water on … oh wait it’s already on … to type the new address into the computer, that’s just stupid. Corporations may WANT to be people, but they end up being STUPID people.

      • MrMongerty says:

        It isn’t a “$30 to turn the water on” fee. It is a fee to have the account changed over and activated in the system.

        Everyone here seems to think that it is simply changing a name in an excel sheet, but public utilities don’t work that way. There are probably mutlitple pages of documentation that they are going to have to have her fill out and file in order to take everything over, and will more than likely have to be reviewed. (not to mention the sticky situation of removing someone who is deceased, they will likely need proof to remove her father).

        • willieMac says:

          Really? Because when I bought my house it went like this. Hello water company, this is will, I now own this house. OK will, the bill is changed over to your name. Done.

  14. jsodano says:

    Let me start by saying that, yes, this is crappy! Unfortunately, Jen is being treated as a new customer (it’s not simply a name change). They will terminate the service in her father’s name and start service in hers. While it sounds inane that this activity would cost $30, this is the reality when it comes to the utility companies. They are the only game in town, they own the access and the pipes, and if you want your water you will pay. Protest, and you don’t get water…it’s that simple.

  15. tundey says:

    That’s pretty much par for the course with utilities.