The saying goes, you can’t fight city hall.
But that’s exactly what a group of North Side condo owners are doing after receiving a Chicago water bill for more than $10,000 in June 2020.
“For that billing period they said we used 750,000 gallons,” says one of the owners, Travis Lankheet.
That’s compared to about 60,000 gallons in a typical billing period, at a total cost to the building’s four units of about $800.
Suspecting the reading was a mistake, the owners called City Hall.
They were told it was likely caused by an undiscovered leak. So, they checked it out.
“In our unit, we had two different plumbers actually,” says owner Kate Saeva. “And they looked at everything.”
The owners of the other units did the same, but no leaks or broken pipes were discovered.
The city had replaced the building’s water meter in 2019, after discovering the high readings it had given were wrong.
Residents suspected that was again the case because “it just doesn’t make sense for us to have physically used this much water,” Saeva says.
It sounded like an easy fix. But the city ruled the meter was fine and ordered them to pay up.
They now owe more than $23,000 and counting.
“We’re stuck because we can never get in touch with anyone that’s able to engage in a constructive conversation,” Saeva says.
Unable to get anywhere, they sought help from their alderman.
“Certainly, my office is trying to help them,” says Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st). “But the communication is feeling at times, very one-sided.”
WGN Investigates contacted the city’s finance and water departments, requesting sit-down interviews to discuss the issue.
But we too were stonewalled. A finance department spokeswoman would tell us only the account balance was “valid,” adding the city “will reach out to discuss the account with the condominium association and to offer a payment plan.”
La Spata says it’s an issue that needs fixing.
“I think that’s where a lot of our city’s frustration with government comes from – a lack of responsiveness,” he says. “A sense that when you’re looking at these bills…that there’s an unfairness built into the system.”