Empty Atlanta Lot Owner Loses Appeal of $30k Water Bill

What is your typical water bill a month? Most people pay a couple hundred dollars every few months. What if you had to pay almost ten thousand dollars a month for water that you were incapable of using? Even worse, what if the water company blames you rather admit there has been a mistake?

In 2022, Jeff Raw ran Revive Construction Group, which builds residential homes. Raw has been building and renovating for 20 years in the City of Atlanta. The Department of Watershed Management installed a water meter on one of Revive’s property, which at the time was an empty lot without any house or structures on it.

Revive was charged an $8,899 water bill a month after the DWM installed the water meter;. The exorbitant bills continued for five months, until they reached a total of $29,669.43. During this time though, the lot remained empty and Revive denies that any water was used during those initial five months. When the water meter was finally connected in February 2023 to the newly built home, the water bills shrank down to $13.12 a month.

Revive contested the prior balance of $29,669.43. The DWM denied a bill adjustment and Revive appealed the decision to the Sewer and Water Appeals Board. The Board claimed that Revive must have either used the water; there was a loss of water, or theft of water. However, the water charged was equal to about 100 home swimming pools. No one in the area recalled seeing anyone moving that much water or anything suspicious.

Towards the end of 2023, the DWM seemingly corrected the issue. Revive received an email stating: “The prior balance on the account reflected water leakage that was the result of Department of Watershed actions. Once the leak was addressed and the account properly adjusted, the corrected balance for the property is $219.24.” However, DWM soon backtracked and claimed that the $219.24 quote was made in error and that the nearly $30,000 balance still applied.

Appeals Process

Many jurisdictions will set up specialized courts to deal with certain cases that might not require the regular court system’s attention. These specialized courts deal only with the issues they were created to address. For instance, Congress has created administrative courts such as bankruptcy courts, tax courts, and immigration courts to facilitate these issues. Likewise, many states will set up small claims courts to handle cases whose value are under a certain threshold, such as $5,000.

Utility appeals boards are often set up in a similar manner. Their purpose is to hear utility bill disputes without having to involve an actual trial court. However, the ruling of specialty courts can be appealed into a trial court and then the matter proceeds as a regular lawsuit.

Evidence Points to DWM Being at Fault

The known information indicates that there was no theft of water on Revive’s property. Even if there was though, it seems inequitable to punish the victim for water being stolen. However, the

DWM itself reported that there was a “water leakage that was the result of Department of Watershed actions.” From an evidentiary standpoint, there is no justification for why the DWM doesn’t just accept that the water bill for an empty lot should be a couple hundred dollars instead of pursuing what will likely amount to a frivolous collection attempt.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Understanding the nuances of local real estate law is often difficult. Complex transactions are best handled by a knowledgeable lawyer that specializes in real estate law. If you are dealing with matters regarding real estate and property law, you should consider hiring a property lawyer for assistance.

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