• Go to page :
  • 1 2
  • Text Only
Voting History
rated:
Issue:
So my parents own a commercial property and we recently received a bill from our water department in the amount of over 20k. Upon further reading, the water dept discovered that the property had not been billed a surcharge for over a decade due to a forgotten meter.

My parents are fine with paying the amount of what should have been charged when they were using the property. The problem is, my parents also had a tenant for 3-4 years during the last decade of which they no longer can get a hold of. To make matters worst, our Water Department at the time (and still do) did not change the name of the water bill to the tenant's name when the tenant leased the property. Rather the Water Dept required the bills be in the name of the property owner (my parents). As a result, the water bills were under my parent's name for the last decade and the Water Dept stated that it is my parent's sole responsibility for the 20k bill (including the tenant's). They are threatening to put a lien on the property if it does not get paid.

What has been done thus far:
My parents met with a manager at the Water Dept to discuss our issue. However, the manager took down the information and told my parents that they would come to a decision within 30 days. My parents received a letter a few weeks later outlining the Water Dept's investigation and concluded that my parents are solely responsible for the full amount derived from Pennsylvania state law and reiterated the lien.


I'm kindly asking what others would do in this situation.

Thanks in advance!

Member Summary
Most Recent Posts
I'd like to know what kind of tenants live in a laundromat.

mistadeal (Feb. 28, 2013 @ 2:21p) |

This is the way the game is played

SUCKISSTAPLES (Feb. 28, 2013 @ 2:38p) |

Another thing you'll want to ask them for is all records they have on the history of the meter (assuming we're talking a... (more)

Solandri (Mar. 01, 2013 @ 4:32a) |

  • Also categorized in:
Thanks for visiting FatWallet.com. Join for free to remove this ad.

Billed a surcharge as in they received a regular bill, but it wasn't the full amount, or they never received a bill at all?

A quick google search shows that the statute of limitations on debt is 4 years. I would tell them that they are only legally allowed to collect for the last 4 years.

Def consult a lawyer, $20k is worth professional advice.

scrouds said:   Billed a surcharge as in they received a regular bill, but it wasn't the full amount, or they never received a bill at all?

A quick google search shows that the statute of limitations on debt is 4 years. I would tell them that they are only legally allowed to collect for the last 4 years.

Def consult a lawyer, $20k is worth professional advice.


The surcharge is an "Industrial Surcharge". According to my parents there was another meter that the Water Dept didn't read for over a decade that would have added to the monthly water bills. Thus, my parent's for over a decade received monthly bills for the water used and paid it but without this "Industrial Surcharge".

Lawyer up. Cash strapped local govt is going to give you no leeway.

minkotic said:   Issue:
So my parents own a commercial property and we recently received a bill from our water department in the amount of over 20k. Upon further reading, the water dept discovered that the property had not been billed a surcharge for over a decade due to a forgotten meter.

My parents are fine with paying the amount of what should have been charged when they were using the property. The problem is, my parents also had a tenant for 3-4 years during the last decade of which they no longer can get a hold of. To make matters worst, our Water Department at the time (and still do) did not change the name of the water bill to the tenant's name when the tenant leased the property. Rather the Water Dept required the bills be in the name of the property owner (my parents). As a result, the water bills were under my parent's name for the last decade and the Water Dept stated that it is my parent's sole responsibility for the 20k bill (including the tenant's). They are threatening to put a lien on the property if it does not get paid.

What has been done thus far:
My parents met with a manager at the Water Dept to discuss our issue. However, the manager took down the information and told my parents that they would come to a decision within 30 days. My parents received a letter a few weeks later outlining the Water Dept's investigation and concluded that my parents are solely responsible for the full amount derived from Pennsylvania state law and reiterated the lien.


I'm kindly asking what others would do in this situation.

Thanks in advance!

Since they are saying this is "derived from Pennsylvania state law" and we are talking 20k, you want input from someone familiar with local law. Is this a government agency? Statute of limitations sometimes have exceptions for them. Get professional advice from a lawyer familiar with local laws.

1. Document all conversations
2. Notify SIS
3. Sue with SIS.
4. Own the water company.

If the meter wasn't read for over a decade how exactly did they come up with $20,000?
Those old skool odometers on the meter must have lapse a few times over the decade.

uutxs said:   minkotic said:   Issue:
So my parents own a commercial property and we recently received a bill from our water department in the amount of over 20k. Upon further reading, the water dept discovered that the property had not been billed a surcharge for over a decade due to a forgotten meter.

My parents are fine with paying the amount of what should have been charged when they were using the property. The problem is, my parents also had a tenant for 3-4 years during the last decade of which they no longer can get a hold of. To make matters worst, our Water Department at the time (and still do) did not change the name of the water bill to the tenant's name when the tenant leased the property. Rather the Water Dept required the bills be in the name of the property owner (my parents). As a result, the water bills were under my parent's name for the last decade and the Water Dept stated that it is my parent's sole responsibility for the 20k bill (including the tenant's). They are threatening to put a lien on the property if it does not get paid.

What has been done thus far:
My parents met with a manager at the Water Dept to discuss our issue. However, the manager took down the information and told my parents that they would come to a decision within 30 days. My parents received a letter a few weeks later outlining the Water Dept's investigation and concluded that my parents are solely responsible for the full amount derived from Pennsylvania state law and reiterated the lien.


I'm kindly asking what others would do in this situation.

Thanks in advance!

Since they are saying this is "derived from Pennsylvania state law" and we are talking 20k, you want input from someone familiar with local law. Is this a government agency? Statute of limitations sometimes have exceptions for them. Get professional advice from a lawyer familiar with local laws.


Yes, this is from a city utility company. To be more precise, they out line Pennsylvania State Law Purdons 53. P.S. section 7106 and 7251. I tried googling the law stated, but haven't found much.

The issue with hiring a lawyer is that essentially we are fighting for 6-8k (the charge for our past tenant that we are being held liable for). This may be a dumb question, but is it cost effective at that point? I'm not very familiar with the costs of lawyers and how drawn out this can get especially with the local government's utility company.

Thanks for your suggestions.

KYBOSH said:   If the meter wasn't read for over a decade how exactly did they come up with $20,000?
Those old skool odometers on the meter must have lapse a few times over the decade.


According to the Water Department's letter, their "Special Investigations Unit took a special reading" and that "this reading is correct as issued since it is based on the actual reading".

Most lawyers would give you a free consult, why not meet with a couple?

You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-can-charge-minimum-service-fees-for-waste-collection/)

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

minkotic said:   KYBOSH said:   If the meter wasn't read for over a decade how exactly did they come up with $20,000?
Those old skool odometers on the meter must have lapse a few times over the decade.


According to the Water Department's letter, their "Special Investigations Unit took a special reading" and that "this reading is correct as issued since it is based on the actual reading".




[...reserved until I can figure out how to properly response to what I just read...]

These type of law are very common.

The intention of the law was to ensure that the ulities does not play favority by giving a discount to some but every time this type of situation comes up the law backfires. There are stories like the OP's that went to the media and still nothing can be done because the utitilies can actually be held in comtempt of the law. Best of what you can do is probably negotiate a payment plan. Also consider writing to your local city/county council to plead for help.

scrouds said:   Billed a surcharge as in they received a regular bill, but it wasn't the full amount, or they never received a bill at all?

A quick google search shows that the statute of limitations on debt is 4 years. I would tell them that they are only legally allowed to collect for the last 4 years.

Def consult a lawyer, $20k is worth professional advice.


The statute of limitations differs based on the state laws. It also is only the time period on which you can be sued for the debt. I believe even 100 years from now someone can ask you to pay a debt, they just can't go to court about it.

Sounds like a cash grab by the utility. "Industrial Surcharge" is very sketchy.

KYBOSH said:   minkotic said:   KYBOSH said:   If the meter wasn't read for over a decade how exactly did they come up with $20,000?
Those old skool odometers on the meter must have lapse a few times over the decade.


According to the Water Department's letter, their "Special Investigations Unit took a special reading" and that "this reading is correct as issued since it is based on the actual reading".




[...reserved until I can figure out how to properly response to what I just read...]


I think you mean: "Get Jerry Bruckheimer on the phone. I've got an idea for a new TV show. CSI: Water Department, starring Ricky Schroder and Elizabeth Berkley.

JTausTX said:   Sounds like a cash grab by the utility. "Industrial Surcharge" is very sketchy.

The surcharge is legit since the property in the dispute is a laundromat. The Industrial Surcharge covers the costs of treating waste water that exceeds the characteristics of a normal residential customer.

minkotic said:   JTausTX said:   Sounds like a cash grab by the utility. "Industrial Surcharge" is very sketchy.The surcharge is legit since the property in the dispute is a laundromat. The Industrial Surcharge covers the costs of treating waste water that exceeds the characteristics of a normal residential customer.

What ever you do, don't tell them that. Don't accept one cent of the charge until you figure out a gameplan.

LOOPHOLE said:   You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-can-charge-minimum-service-fees-for-waste-collection/)

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

So has a formal claim been filed?

Sounds like its time for an intervening real estate transfer. And quick .

SUCKISSTAPLES said:   LOOPHOLE said:   You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-ca...

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

So has a formal claim been filed?

Sounds like its time for an intervening real estate transfer. And quick .


If you are referring to the Water Department filing a lien, they have not formally done so yet. They threaten to do so if we do not pay the full amount by the due date of our last bill which is at the end of this month. I don't expect them to delay even though my parents have been calling and meeting with the Water Department over the last month to try to resolve this issue amicably.

SUCKISSTAPLES said:   LOOPHOLE said:   You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-ca...

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

So has a formal claim been filed?

Sounds like its time for an intervening real estate transfer. And quick .


That would be the ultimate "stick it to the city", if they could pull it off, unlikely at this late in the game. It would have to be structured extremely well and even then a judge might find a way to still hold them liable. OP, see attorney tomorrow, prepare for a quick fire sale! Biggest problem was they acknowledged receipt of bill, had meetings etc. The best time for a sale strategy would have been the day bill (never. ahem) arrived. Was it sent certified?

This is one of those things that is just unwinnable, sorry to bear bad news. If they are correct that amount of money is owed and they aren't willing to cut you a break, all the case law I am familiar with indicates that the water bill must be paid.

The only thing I can think of is if you return your ill-gotten gains. You can offer to give the water back. You would need to get one of those airplanes that scoop up lake water and dumps the water on forest fires. Then use the plane to scoop up a decade's worth of water and dump it on the city water utility, over and over. That would make you even in my book.

LOOPHOLE said:   SUCKISSTAPLES said:   LOOPHOLE said:   You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-ca...

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

So has a formal claim been filed?

Sounds like its time for an intervening real estate transfer. And quick .


That would be the ultimate "stick it to the city", if they could pull it off, unlikely at this late in the game. It would have to be structured extremely well and even then a judge might find a way to still hold them liable. OP, see attorney tomorrow, prepare for a quick fire sale! Biggest problem was they acknowledged receipt of bill, had meetings etc. The best time for a sale strategy would have been the day bill (never. ahem) arrived. Was it sent certified?


Not really, its just kicking the can down the road. The bill will run with the land and a new owner will have to pay it, from my understanding of how these things work.

OliverQuackenbush said:   LOOPHOLE said:   SUCKISSTAPLES said:   LOOPHOLE said:   You may be screwed based on this, although a different type of issue:

In holding that the City was not barred by the statute of limitation, the Court explained that the Pennsylvania Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law (53 P.S. §§ 7143, 7432) authorize the City to make a claim for taxes or rates payable to the City without time limitations, provided that there has not been any intervening real estate transfer before such claim is filed.

(http://berkscountylawupdate.foxrothschild.com/city-of-reading-ca...

I would attempt to negotiate something in consultation with an attorney.

So has a formal claim been filed?

Sounds like its time for an intervening real estate transfer. And quick .


That would be the ultimate "stick it to the city", if they could pull it off, unlikely at this late in the game. It would have to be structured extremely well and even then a judge might find a way to still hold them liable. OP, see attorney tomorrow, prepare for a quick fire sale! Biggest problem was they acknowledged receipt of bill, had meetings etc. The best time for a sale strategy would have been the day bill (never. ahem) arrived. Was it sent certified?


Not really, its just kicking the can down the road. The bill will run with the land and a new owner will have to pay it, from my understanding of how these things work.


I thought the quoted sentence basically said that the city isn't bound by the statute of limitations as long as there has been no transfer of real estate. Which would imply if there is a transfer, then they'd be bound to the statute of limitations.

Just my logic based on that one quoted sentence alone. It sounds like you're saying this is wrong.

hello alex my friend. you are right, what i said is that was wrong. but I was wrong, so i am changing what im am saying to that is right. I used the word "bill", and its true in PA that a "bill" or 'invoice" alone does not "run with the land" or in other words attach to the property so that subsequent owners are on the hook for it. Had I said "lien" I would have been right. However, if/when a lien attaches to the property, then the subsequent owners will be on the hook. In fact, a lien isn't even necessary, all it takes is the city to make a claim to the court's for a lien.
BUTTTTTt, and heres the kicker: the dudes parents will still be on the hook for the water bill, notwithstanding the issues regarding liens or the 3 yr sol. that is my understanding based on my drunken reading of Keller v. Treasurer (Pa. Commw. Ct., 2011).

People got to do what they got to do what they got to do. But this was a commercial business trying to operate outside of the rules of the game. They said they are fine with paying. Well they should just pay it then. And. they also benefited when they allowed their tenant to benefit from the "forgotten meter". So I can see why the utility doesn't care about that. There is a family component to this that makes people want to side with these folks. But the bottom line is that they benefited from ignoring the law in a way their competitors could not. Makes you wonder if there is any other shortcuts they made over the years. Not casting judgment. Just saying it is what it is.

This sounds interesting and very newsworthy.

riznick said:   This sounds interesting and very newsworthy.


Good point. Nowsadays it is very easy for something to get dragged into public view. That is another interest that needs to be considered.

I have been in a similar situation. Many years ago, I bought into a partnership in a steel fabrication business that ran some of the biggest press brakes and presses in the state. The original owner disclosed that the power bill was around $200 to $500 per month and they had been using electric heat to heat a building with broken windows as well as running all that equipment. The original owner called the utility on at least 3 occasions over a 5 year period and said that something must be wrong. All three times, they came and checked it out and said everything was AOK. Shortly after I left the partnership, the utility came in and discovered that one of the legs of the 3 phase was connected backwards on the meter or some such nonsense. Once corrected, the power bill shot up to over 3 grand per month.

My former partner negotiated a 6 month payment of calculated usage as long as all the previous charges were forgiven. He gave them the alternative that he would file BK, start a new company and never miss a beat. They were happy to take their 20 grand.

"Special Investigations Unit took a special reading"

First thing I would do is request the full method on how that was done and reviewed. Tell them you want to see it in full to make sure it was correct, fair, and maybe have an outside party to review it.

2nd I would then contact the local media. They love stories on how people got surprise 20k bills and how the “big bad Gov” is threatening them.

And lastly never admit you owe anything and do not sign/agree to anything until you see where they are coming from. Whos to say the 20k will be the last time they knock on your door? If you lay down now then they know in the future they can go back to you anytime. If you fight it then they will not come back unless its very clear

germanpope said:   People got to do what they got to do what they got to do. But this was a commercial business trying to operate outside of the rules of the game. They said they are fine with paying. Well they should just pay it then. And. they also benefited when they allowed their tenant to benefit from the "forgotten meter". So I can see why the utility doesn't care about that. There is a family component to this that makes people want to side with these folks. But the bottom line is that they benefited from ignoring the law in a way their competitors could not. Makes you wonder if there is any other shortcuts they made over the years. Not casting judgment. Just saying it is what it is.

The meter was never read by the Water Department for over a decade. My parents in no way tried to hide the meter in any way to make the meter reader avoid this "forgotten" meter. The extra meter is available to read by the water department and for a decade they never chose to read the meter.

What city in Pennsylvania is this? Are you sure it is a separate meter that wasn't read as opposed to a monthly surcharge for the nature of the business (commercial/industrial vs. residential)?

The worst thing in the world that can possibly happen is "my parents have been calling and meeting with the Water Department over the last month to try to resolve this issue amicably." There is no "amicably" here, it's a legal matter and you should have been talking to a lawyer on day one when you got the notice. Utility companies are not in the business of negotiating because, as others have pointed out, they hold all the cards. Having lived in PA for many years, I can tell you there are most definitely loopholes on top of loopholes that give them special rights and powers that you know nothing about. Get a lawyer now and stop talking to them directly. There isn't one thing your parents can say to make this better, but there are about a million things they can say to make it worse. They have no clue about the difference. They need to stop talking now and let a professional handle it.

Also, you are ASSUMING you can go after the tenants for chunk of this. That's speculative at best. Likely any redress you had with them DOES have a statute of limitation, unlike between you and the county. If I were the tenant, I'd have an attorney as well. 20k is no joke, and you can bet the county is going to start adding fees, penalties, interest, and any other way they can think of to make the 20k into 40k very quickly.

Were your parents aware of the surcharge but knew they weren't paying it for over a decade? In that case they essentially got a $20,000 loan to play with and now have to pay it back.

I have zero sympathy for most landlords especially in places where they charge outrageous rent for a substandard product.

There is simply not enough reliable information here to call the City bad guys. Details are incomplete and one-sided. Being a family business or small business doesn't change that. Feeling emotion because they are a guys parents doesn't change it. Trying to get more detail from OP won't help. And OP should be smart enough to know that winning here serves no purpose.

Pics of the meter or it didn't happen.

minkotic said:    .....

What has been done thus far:
My parents met with a manager at the Water Dept to discuss our issue. However, the manager took down the information and told my parents that they would come to a decision within 30 days. My parents received a letter a few weeks later outlining the Water Dept's investigation and concluded that my parents are solely responsible for the full amount derived from Pennsylvania state law and reiterated the lien.


I'm kindly asking what others would do in this situation.

Thanks in advance!


This paragraph reads like it was written by a law student...... I suspect a troll ... The exclamation point is a further clue ... Just need the smiley and a thanks guys to confirm ...

riznick said:   This sounds interesting and very newsworthy.

I almost never endorse trying to drag cases into the news, but this one might be well-documented enough to get a reporter's attention. Go for print first, TV people almost always rip stories like this off from print media.

..... or german(ex)pope could be correct.

move

Skipping 28 Messages...
marabout said:   I happen to work for a municipal water utility and I also suspect that this was not a forgotten meter but that they were simply billing at the residential rate and discovered that it should have been billed as industrial since it was a dry cleaning operation. The OP said his parents got a bill and paid it every month so this would indicate the meter was being read. If so, the water department has all the records of how much water was used and can just apply the industrial rate to it.

When you meet with them you need to make sure they are charging the appropriate rates for each year of the usage. I.e. they can't say you used 5mil gallons over the years and then apply today's industrial rate surcharge to all of it: they need to apply 1992's rate to the water used that year, 1993's rate to that year's water, etc.

Another thing you'll want to ask them for is all records they have on the history of the meter (assuming we're talking about two meters here and they're being truthful that they never read the second meter).

At a previous company I worked at, we had about a $700/mo water bill. Then one month I opened up the bill and did a double-take at a charge for $104,000. I called up the water company to figure out what this was about. They did some research and got back to me a few days later. During the month, they had replaced our old meter with a new one. But the person who replaced it had forgotten to write down the reading on the old meter when he removed it. So at the end of the month their billing computer ended up taking the reading from the new meter, and subtracting the previous month's reading from the old meter, which resulted in them thinking $104,000 of water had been used.



Disclaimer: By providing links to other sites, FatWallet.com does not guarantee, approve or endorse the information or products available at these sites, nor does a link indicate any association with or endorsement by the linked site to FatWallet.com.

Thanks for visiting FatWallet.com. Join for free to remove this ad.

TRUSTe online privacy certification

While FatWallet makes every effort to post correct information, offers are subject to change without notice.
Some exclusions may apply based upon merchant policies.
© 1999-2014