10News Investigates Complaints Of Renters Being Gouged
11:11 PM, Mar 30, 2006
10News investigates complaints that thousands of renters in San Diego County are being gouged when it comes to paying their water bill.Vicky Gunter is careful not to waste water. She said she's mindful of the cost to her landlord and the need to conserve.But in her last apartment, incentives to conserve and her budget were seriously tested."There were probably 8 or 10 of us who got together and were protesting," said Gunter.They were protesting bills from the PC Water Company."It was $20 a month for the first person, and $10 for each person who lived in the apartment," said Gunter.It was $30 a month for Gunter -- more than she's ever paid. And she said there was no meter to verify the amount of water she used."To me it wasn't fair," said Gunter.10News went looking for the PC Water Company and its reservoirs and pumping station, but all that was found was a mailbox drop.There is no water company, just the billing arm of Progress Management, which oversees several apartment complexes in the county, 10News reported."They pass water bills any way they like, including making a profit on the water," said attorney Steve Kellman.Kellman is a tenant lawyer, saying this billing practice needs to stop."The problem is there is no way to tell if bills are accurate. (There's) no meters. (They're) just sticking tenants with arbitrary bills," said Kellman."A flat rate period makes people not think about the water they use," said Kate Breece, with Helix Water District.The Helix Water District also has concerns about this billing practice."In the long run, the people living in those apartments may not have an incentive to conserve," said Breece.With these concerns over conservation and billing fairness, what does Progress Management have to say?In an e-mail to 10News, Progress Management's lawyer said the billing is "legal, proper and the standard within the (apartment) industry.""This is in addition to the rent? I don't know, this doesn't smell right," said State Sen. Christine Kehoe.Kehoe isn't sure this ought to be a billing standard."If these people are being billed for something they're not using, then it's gouging, and that's against the law," said Kehoe.Kehoe joins the call for accurate and affordable water meters in apartments to protect renters' money and precious water from going down the drain.