How to Battle a High Water Bill

NBC Universal, Inc.

Shannon Willis and her sister rented a small property in Bethesda, Maryland, in the summer of 2020 to help them save money to buy a house, but a couple of months later, their water bill was $1,000 – a increase of about 10 times their usual bill.

“I was shocked and I showed my sister and I was like, you know, this is outrageous,” Willis said. “And it has to be an error, because there's just no way.”

Their landlord sent a plumber to inspect the property for leaks but didn’t find any, they said.

Willis said she called WSSC and was told the water meter was recently replaced.

“And I was like, ‘OK, well, what is my option?’” Willis said. “And she said, ‘You can open a dispute.’ So, I opened a dispute.”

Months went by with no resolution, Willis said, and time was ticking because her lease was almost up. 

“So, I was like, OK, well, let me try and escalate this. Let me, there's a step beyond this, opening this dispute,” she said. “You can ask for a hearing. So, I submit a hearing request.”

But even that went nowhere, she said, leaving her no choice but to pay the high water bill. Her frustration was boiling over, so she turned to NBC4 Responds to get an answer.

In a statement, WSSC said, “Upon learning of Ms. Willis’ inquiry, we identified our error, made the correction and worked to provide her the refund she was entitled to receive. We determined that Ms. Willis’ meter leak was identified but went unaddressed by staff, and we are working to address this issue.”

To dispute a water bill, first call the company and ask about its billing dispute process. Most have an appeal, challenge or review process in place.

But each utility company is a little different:

  • WSSC has two options: the dispute resolving board for unpaid charges and a refund hearing to dispute paid charges.
  • DC Water gives 20 calendar days after the bill to notify them in writing the reason why the bill is believed to be incorrect.
  • With Fairfax Water, billing reviews can be initiated by calling customer service.

If the utility company still doesn’t give an answer, file a complaint with the state:

Most water companies offer payment programs and other options to help customers pay their bills when the bills are correct. Instead of ignoring the bill, reach out immediately.

DC Water currently has a one-time offer to customers who are past due. For customers who qualify, they will waive some penalties and late fees. The offer lasts until May 31.

CORRECTION (April 6, 2023): An earlier version of this story stated that DC Water gives 30 calendar days after billing for customers to report mistakes. It is 20 calendar days.

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