Westchester family still has to pay $5,000 bill despite faulty water meter

(WSVN) - Their water meter was broken, but a South Florida family is still stuck with a water bill for more than $5,000. They’ve tried fighting Miami-Dade Water and Sewer, but the county says they’re rightfully owed the money. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

It’s a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home that’s perfect for Jose Velazco, his wife Tania and their two boys.

Jose Velazco: “We are integrated into this part of Westchester, and frankly, we love it.”

With no pool in their backyard, their average quarterly water and sewer bill is just over $300.

So in March, when Tania opened the water bill, she was shocked.

Tania Velazco: “It was for $1,523. My husband was outside, and I went out there screaming.”

They figured their sons must have left the backyard hose on for a few days. Tania started timing everyone’s showers, while Jose replaced the flappers in the toilets and checked for leaks. They assumed the next bill would drop back down to normal.

Jose Velazco: “I opened the mail, and it was like a rocket launch.”

And this is what set them off: a $5,180 bill for using a whopping 286,484 gallons of water. Your average residential swimming pool is just 15 thousand gallons.

Tania Velazco: “I went through the roof.”

They had the county test their meter. Turns out the meter was not legally accurate.

Jose Velazco: “Fail, fail, fail.”

So the meter was replaced, and their next bill dropped down to just under $260.

Jose Velazco: “I immediately thought, ‘Problem solved, bad meter.'”

But here at the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer meter testing site, it was determined their meter was under reading how much water was being used, so the county says those huge bills should have been even higher.

Jennifer Messemer-Skold, Miami-Dade Water and Sewer: “If you’re just looking at the numbers, the numbers tell a story that something happened, and something was repaired.”

But Jose and Tania are adamant they never had a leak to repair.

For an independent assessment, we called in Ken Brighton, a specialist at American Leak Detection.

Ken Brighton, American Leak Detection: “To do 230,000 gallons worth of water, they’d have to have every fixture on the house running like all the time. If it was within the house itself, above the slab space, they’d be white water rafting by now.”

He walked the property, didn’t see any signs of water damage and looked for signs of leaks both past and present.

Ken Brighton: “I’d say that this is more than likely anything else to be a problem with the meter.”

But the county isn’t backing down.

Jennifer Messemer-Skold: “In this case, without anything related to a leak, and the fact that the meter wasn’t a high registration in this case, there isn’t any recourse the department can offer other than a payment arrangement.”

Jose and Tania have rejected the county’s payment plan to pay off their $6,750 balance.

Jose Velazco: “I don’t know how they can be providing a faulty product and expecting the consumer to continue paying for it after they themselves proved that product was faulty.”

Tania Velazco: “If I agree to a payment plan, I’m agreeing that I used that, and I did not use that.”

But for now, the bill remains, and so does the mystery of how it got so high.

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