New Method For Houston Water Users To Dispute High Bills

Houston residents may soon have a new tool to dispute unusually high water bills.

We've all heard the stories of people who open their monthly water bill to find a staggering tally, sometimes in the thousands
of dollars.

Houston officials are amending the process for how residents can dispute those bills.

Mayor Annise Parker says there are only a few explanations for unusually high bills.

"The reasons that water bills spike are leaks, problems with the meter — and we can address those today. But there are these mysterious spikes, and frankly a lot of times it's either the kids come in and run water and their parents aren't aware of it, or people steal water from each other."

That last example is the area where the city is creating an avenue for residents and business owners to dispute those charges.

Water users who see a spike five times higher than their monthly average can appeal.

If they meet the criteria, the city will waive 500 percent of their average charges or up to $4,000.

If city council passes the amendment next week, water users will also be able to request a hearing with a newly created water
review board.

"We're not at war with our customers, this is about making a process that already works, where we already refund nearly $5 million a year in leak adjustments, more customer-friendly."

Most of the city's $5 million in water bill disputes comes from leaks or faulty meters. Only about $250,000 of the disputed charges come from unexplained or unknown causes.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...