Longwood residents drowning in high water bills

Utilities Inc. of Florida said it was a 'human error'

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter

LONGWOOD, Fla. - People living in a Longwood neighborhood said they have seen dramatic spikes in their water bills. They also said they got the run-around when approaching their provider.

When Shannon Covet discovered a dramatic increase in her water bill, she immediately tried to find out why.

"We had (the provider) come out and reread the meter and test the meter," Covet said. "And he agreed that there was not a leak inside the house, and he did not believe it was the irrigation system."

Covet said an employee from Utilities Inc. of Florida explained how to test her toilets for leaks. They checked the pool and pipes, but found nothing that explained the increased water bill.

It wasn't long before she realized her neighbors experienced it, too.

Larry Land said he saw a dramatic spike in his bill.

"I opened it up and was flabbergasted," Land said.

Randy Ryan, who lives across the street from Covet, said the same thing happened to him.

"We thought, 'Wow, this is twice our normal bill,'" he said.

Ryan's bill went from $120 a month in March to $256 in April. His consumption went from almost 18,000 gallons to more than 50,000 gallons.

It is by far the most water usage in a month within his one-year history, according to Utilities Inc. of Florida data.

Ryan said it doesn't make sense, especially since he and his wife didn't have a functioning kitchen during the time frame of the bill.

"If we had emptied our pool, we could have emptied it twice and filled it twice with the amount of water they said we used," he said.

They also had their meter, irrigation and pool checked. There were no leaks.

Both Covet and Ryan said they contacted Utilities Inc. of Florida on numerous occasions but got "ridiculous" reasons about why the bills could be higher.

"I was told neighborhood kids might be playing with my hose, that my neighbor could be using my hose to fill their pool," Covet said.

Covet didn't believe either reason because she has cameras that send alerts when someone is on her property.

"We were just shut down and blamed with some ridiculous excuses for where the water could have gone," she said.

Ryan said he had a similar experience. 

"I'm frustrated for ourselves for having to pay this very high bill, which we have already done because we were told, if we didn't, the water would be turned off," Covet said.

When News 6 contacted Utilities Inc. of Florida, we got a different response.           

Christopher Snow, a company spokesperson, wouldn't do an interview but sent us a letter that is now going out to customers.

"Errors were made in reading certain water meters in our Sanlando system," the president of the company, John Hoy, wrote in the letter.

Snow was more direct in an email to News 6.

"An employee new to meter reading was not properly trained. It was human error," Snow wrote.

Covet said that answer should have come a lot sooner.

"We don't have a choice over who our utilities come from," she said. "Our hands are tied, and they're just kind of taking advantage of that."

The company said it has made staffing changes and has more skilled meter readers in the area now.

It also said it is adjusting bills and offering customers installment payment plans.

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