FLEETWOOD — James Nicholson’s jaw dropped when he opened his Fleetwood condo’s water bill this year.
It was a whopping $14,000.
“It was just shocking to me.”
The number seemed extremely high, so he ventured down to the building’s basement to find out their actual water usage.
Nicholson discovered his 57-unit Vernazza condo’s actual running grand total on the metre was 76,175 cubic metres. That was in late April.
The bill issued by the City of Surrey in February was for 79,086.
“That’s 2.9 million litres of water they were off,” he said. “We’re not talking a small percentage.”
It turns out they were overcharged more than $4,500 and the city has since corrected the error.
An April 21 email from the city says the bill was adjusted “as per the reread,” which Nicholson said is in reference to the picture he took of their meter.
“We had to do our own investigation to discover this area,” he noted. “Of concern is that they did not send anyone to our residence to read the meter and verify the readings when we raised our concerns. They ended up coming in late June or early July to read it for our most recent bill.”
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But here’s the kicker — the strata paid the inflated bill one day late and were on the hook for a fine of nearly $460 on the correct amount as a result.
“We had to take out a loan to pay the $14,000 water bill,” Nicholson told the Now-Leader Thursday morning. “We just couldn’t afford that. If it was the proper amount to begin with we would’ve been able to pay that bill.
“Charging us a penalty because we didn’t pay their inaccurate amount?” he questioned. “And we paid the inaccurate only one day late.”
Nicholson said the strata called city hall repeatedly asking for the penalty to be waived, and were shot down every time.
“They say, ‘Nothing we can do, nothing we can do. We almost never refund any penalties.’”
After the Now-Leader inquired to the city about the penalty, it was revealed they had just decided to waive it.
“It’s been escalated to our management just as of yesterday,” Kam Grewal, Surrey’s manager of finance, told the Now-Leader Thursday afternoon. “It just came to my attention in the last couple of hours.”
The city will be “reversing the penalty,” he assured.
Grewal said the original meter error was made by a former contractor.
“I know there were some issues with the former contractor,” he noted.
Typically, the city will refer to the meters instead of estimating, said Grewal, but explained there are exceptions.
“Sometimes we will estimate if the weather’s bad or the contractor cannot read the meter,” he said. “Usually they are checked, as long as they’re accessible and visible and weather permitting.”
The decision to reverse the late charge was welcome news to Nicholson.
But Nicholson wonders if other buildings are being billed in the same way and urges everyone to “check their meters themselves and compare it to their bill.”
“How many other condos are just paying and not looking at their reading?”
He added: “It would’ve been great to just get an apology,” for the “grossly inaccurate bill.”