In June 2009, we introduced our readers and viewers to Jeannette Cohen, a feisty, 99-year-old Washington woman fighting what to her was an outrageous water bill.
Instead of her normal monthly bill around $30, Cohen was hit with a water bill for $1,181. According to the bill, she had used about 137,000 gallons of water. Her normal use at her modest bungalow-style house off Reno Road NW where she lived alone was only about 3,000 gallons.
"It's just so obvious that, as the plumber said, 'You couldn't use that much water,'" she told NBC Washington that June.
Cohen vowed to fight the bill and enlisted her lawyer son, David. He took the case to the water department. One hearing was delayed when Mrs. Cohen was too ill to attend. Her daughter-in-law Ellen believes the stress affected her mother-in-law’s health.
Almost two years later, NBC Washington got a call from Ellen. The water bill case has been resolved.
In a letter sent to Mrs. Cohen last month, the water company said she had won her appeal and the bill would be adjusted to remove the extraordinary amount.
The only problem is, Mrs. Cohen didn’t live to see her victory.
“She’s gone,” David said, adding that the vindication letter is “postmarked a year and a day after she died.”
City water officials said they and their customers have to account for water use. Many large bills occur when someone has an unnoticed leak or when a neighbor steals water. But in this case, after a hearing and a lengthy review, Mrs. Cohen was cleared, although she didn’t live to know it.
David said his mother was opposed to debts and paid all her bills on time. He said she was stubborn because she was so honest. When he tried to settle the bill with a compromise amount, his mother was furious with him.
“It’s probably the last time she was upset with me,” he said.
He thinks she’d be very pleased with the result of the appeal.
“I can hear her saying, ‘Well, I don’t understand why we had to go through all of this,’” David said.
And with that, David let out a knowing little chuckle at the memory of his feisty mother.
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