KISSIMMEE, Fla. – A single mother who rents a second floor condominium unit received a water bill in December 2020 for nearly $1,200 after the meter indicated her family used nearly 10 times the amount of water they typically consume each month.
The following month, Genaia Barros received another large water bill for $982 before her water usage returned to a more normal level in February.
“It’s impossible,” said Barros, who insists she and her two children use very little water except to drink, bathe and wash clothes.
“Not even the dishwasher runs quite frequently because she doesn’t really cook at home. She usually does take-out,” said Otavio Carvalho, a close family friend who has been helping Barros research her high water bills.
Barros said her water service was shut off for two days because she was unable to pay the bills in full in a timely manner.
Toho Water Authority, the condo’s water provider, has since issued Barros credits on her bill as it does for other customers who are surprised by an unexpected water leak.
But Barros is still trying to understand how she could have used enough water in those two months to potentially fill her condo’s community swimming pool four times.
“There is no type of leak,” said Barros, who unsuccessfully searched her condo unit and the exterior of her building for any signs of a plumbing problem.
Barros may never know what caused her water bills to spike last winter.
But while investigating the tenant’s concerns, News 6 discovered water spigots on the ground level of her building, including some concealed behind bushes, that are tied into her second story unit’s plumbing system.
Barros claims she was never told she would be paying for an exterior water spigot when she rented the condo about two years ago.
The tenant cannot rule out the possibility that someone may have turned on the outdoor water spigot without her knowledge or permission.
“It’s a shocker to see somebody, a single mom of two kids, having to go through a situation like this,” Carvalho said.
Prior water bills provided by Barros to News 6 show her family consumed an average of 9,000 gallons of water each month at a cost of about $89 monthly.
In December 2020, Barros was billed $1,146 for reportedly using 82,000 gallons of water.
The following month, Barros’ water bill showed she used 71,000 gallons at a cost of $982.
In February, when Barros said her water had been shut off for two days, she was billed for 4,000 gallons.
The Club Cortile Condominium Association, which operates the complex where Barros resides, said there were no leaks on the association’s property between the water meter and Barros’ condo unit.
The condominium association is unaware of any other owners or occupants who received unusually high water bills.
An association representative confirmed that water spigots outside the condo buildings are for the use of tenants, primarily for washing automobiles.
“Each unit owner or occupant is obligated to pay for the water from the spigot associated with the unit owner or occupant’s condominium unit,” said David N. Glassman, an attorney who represents the Club Cortile Condominium Association.
Glassman noted that some occupants have placed padlocks on their unit’s water spigots, something Barros didn’t realize might be necessary since she claims she was unaware of the exterior valve.
The company that owns Barros’ condo unit, Fidelity Real Estate Group LLC, did not respond to questions from News 6 inquiring whether it was aware of the exterior water spigot and if so, whether it had informed Barros about it.
“(The landlord) has opted out of this opportunity,” said Daniel Araque, a property manager who represents the condo owner.
“Toho Water Authority cares about our customers,” said Jamie Floer, communications manager for the water provider. “To help with unexpected leaks on the customer side of the meter regardless of cause, Toho offers a one-month leak adjustment credit that can be extended to two-months with additional approval.”
The water provider acknowledged it did not inform Barros about the option for the second month credit, which has since been applied to her water bill.
“We sincerely apologize for the error and will work to improve our communications and training regarding leak adjustments, including adding the information to our website,” Floer said. “We are also investing in software that will allow customers to set leak alerts and access daily usage information. That project is underway.”
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