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San Diego homeowner: Disconnecting a water meter could cost thousands

The HOA pays a base fee for the meter.
Water meter
Posted at 4:58 PM, Jul 19, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Jet Martin wanted to stop service to a water meter to save money for the homeowners in his Mira Mesa HOA.

It turns out the city said doing that will cost thousands of dollars.

“I was shocked when I heard an amount of $14,000 simply to discontinue water service,” Martin said.

Martin’s HOA consists of 15 homes. There used to be sprinklers that watered a once-grassy area that sits between two houses. It was a space where residents in the HOA could sit, eat, and enjoy the outdoors. They stopped watering the grass a couple of years ago, but still pay a base fee to the city of nearly $30 per month.

“No reason to pay for a service fee of $30 a month… and not use the water at all,” he said.

He contacted the City of San Diego a few months ago to stop service.

“I didn’t think there would be any charge at all. I thought it would be a simple phone call,” Martin said.

It turns out he was wrong. According to an email from a senior engineer with San Diego, the price tag for removing the meter included an $818 inspection fee, $450 maintenance fee, $245 kill service inspection, and $45 for water meter removal. There was also a mapping fee, records fee, and a charge for fee collection. In all, the total to the city was about $2,400. Martin said the city required them to dig up the street to stop service.

“They want to basically strip out all of this infrastructure, dig up the street, go back to the main, and they will close it off at the main,” Martin said. According to the email he received, the HOA needed a licensed contractor estimated to cost anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000.

The total for the work to remove one water meter could cost as much as $12,417, according to the email to Martin.

“They’re out of touch and they’re not being reasonable with this policy,” Martin said. “I don’t understand why you can’t just turn this off at the valve and lock it and remove the water meter.”

Team 10 checked with other water districts for their procedures.

A spokeswoman with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said, “LADWP shuts off billing meters at the request of the responsible party at no cost.”

A Helix Water District spokesman said they “do not charge a customer to close their account and lock their meter.”

“Whenever a customer closes an account, a final reading with be taken and a closing bill rendered,” Helix spokesperson Mike Uhrhammer told Team 10.

There was a similar response from Otay Water District.

“The District’s Public Service staff will generate a permit to pull the meter. There’s no charge,” said Otay’s communications officer Tenille Otero.

“I think it’s just insanity that [the] San Diego water department wants to conduct business that way at the expense of the consumer,” Martin said.

A San Diego city spokesperson confirmed customers have only two choices: remove the meter and shut off service at the water main or turn off the valve and pay the monthly base fee.

“We are currently working through an update of our billing policies. Included in that is a review of policies and practices of other agencies to see what may be industry best practice. The water meter base fee review is part of this scope,” responded Arian Collins, a public information officer with the city. Collins said the review should be completed by the end of the summer.

Until then, Martin and his fellow homeowners are stuck paying for a service they don’t use.

“It’s really just government at its worst, in my opinion,” Martin said.