(WSVN) - You might have had one. You may know someone who did: A water bill that left you soaked — so high you couldn’t believe it — and you are certain you did not use that much water. Well, in one South Florida woman’s case, she didn’t use any water at all. That’s why she tapped into Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

At one time, this house brought Melissa joy.

Melissa Squadrito, high water bill: “And my dad lived there. He recently passed away, and the house is now my brother and I’s responsibility.”

They inherited the house, but their dad’s memories have made it tough to make any changes.

Melissa Squadrito: “It’s been really hard in trying to clean it out. We’re not there yet. We can’t even change the sheets.”

And so the house has been vacant for months. Empty. Nothing changed, except the water bill.

Melissa Squadrito: “Usually it’s $67, but last month, it was over $500, and again it was over $500.”

Melissa assumed there was a broken pipe in the house.

Melissa Squadrito: “So we had the plumber come, and there is no leaks anywhere.”

A vacant house with no leaks — just a sudden surge of water use.

Melissa Squadrito: “And it shows the activity level shows zero, zero, zero, zero, zero and then 48,58.”

After two high bills, Melissa cut the water going to the house, and the usage returned to zero, but the total on the bill didn’t.

Melissa Squadrito: “And then we got the $1,300 water bill. This is a mistake. This had to be a mistake. This can’t be real.”

Sadly it’s real, so Melissa contacted the city of Pembroke Pines.

Melissa Squadrito: “If there’s no leaks, we are responsible, but if there is a leak, they can give us a sewage credit.”

But there is no leak, and Melissa won’t lie and say there is one to get the sewage credit, which would cut the bill in half.

Then her plumber had an idea.

Melissa Squadrito: “Probably someone is taking the water.”

Melissa says the she let the city know the water might have been stolen by someone, but that didn’t matter either.

Melissa Squadrito: “Yeah. Oh, the water company is just … *moves hands in strict motion* That’s it. You’re responsible.”

Howard, are you responsible for water you didn’t use and may have been stolen?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “The answer is yes. If the water goes through your meter — whether it leaks out or it’s stolen — you are responsible for the bill, but you are not responsible for the water that did not go through the sewage line since it was stolen, and the city should not make you pay for that.”

Pembroke Pines wrote that they had let Melissa know if she showed documentation of leak repairs or provided a police report of the alleged theft of water, she could get a sewage credit. Melissa disagrees with that statement.

Melissa Squadrito: “No, they didn’t tell me anything, but we’ll just give you a payment plan.”

We then told Melissa to contact the police. She did and gave that incident report to the water department. That worked.

Melissa Squadrito: “And then they evaluated everything, and they gave me a credit of $564.”

Howard Finkelstein: “You need to keep a close eye on your water bill. If you see a spike in the bill, don’t assume you used a lot of water and the bill will return to normal. Check for leaks and ask the water department to come out and inspect their meter because you need to solve the problem before the bill goes out of sight.”

The credit from the water department cut Melissa’s bill down to about $750 for water she didn’t use. Not great but better than before.

Melissa Squadrito: “If it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t have known to do anything. Thank you, Help Me Howard!”

You are welcome, Melissa.

As Howard said, keep a close eye on your water bill. We hear so much about outrageous bills. If you get one of those, remember to ask for the sewage credit. Also ask for a payment plan to repay the money from the leak or theft. That can help a little.

Problems pouring in leaving you soaked? Ready to tap into some help? Contact us. Let us be the pipeline to turn you on to a solution.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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