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Getting Hosed: City apologizes, fixes water bill that wrongly amounted to $30,000

Getting Hosed: City fixes water bill that wrongly amounted to $30,000
Getting Hosed: City fixes water bill that wrongly amounted to $30,000 02:42

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The city just apologized to an Irving Park East homeowner whose water bill had a $29,861 mistake on it – and they fixed the mistake.

But that did not happen until the CBS 2 Investigators got involved.

We have been uncovering the problem for years as part of our "Getting Hosed" series on bad water bills. As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, this family is understandably relieved and thankful.

Reinaldo Santiago, Ray for short, reached out to us as a last resort after months of fighting and being sent to collections twice by the city. But less than three weeks after our first story aired, his family got the news for which they'd been praying.

Hickey played Santiago the voicemail that he and his wife left the CBS 2 Investigators.

"You guys made a difference – I can't tell you, an incredible difference - from a $30,000 bill to $275 of what we owed?" Santiago's wife says in the voicemail. "I'm almost crying."

Was Santiago's wife really almost crying?

"She was, almost," Santiago said. "She couldn't believe it!"

How did they get there?

Santiago has owned his building for 30 years and had recently averaged about $200 a month in water usage. But the bill in September came out to $5,311.19.

It reached the point where Santiago was sent to collections twice for a mistake that the city made.

"I was kind of scared to be on collection," he said last month. "I'm retired and on a fixed income.

Crews couldn't find any sign of a leak, but the charges kept racking up - to more than $30,137.38.

"I was lost. I mean, I didn't know where to go to until my wife found this piece on CBS 2 – 'Getting Hosed'" Santiago said. "That was my last resort."

So we kept pushing for answers, and so did Santiago. Finally, he got an apologetic call from a manager, saying the bill had been corrected to what he actually owed - $275.

"If it wasn't for you guys calling and pushing, I don't think we would have gotten this resolved," Santiago said.

But there is still the question of why. What was the error? Was it an issue with the meter? A billing glitch?

The Finance and Water departments have ignored our repeated inquiries. They ignored Santiago's questions about that too.

Why did it take the city six months to correct their own error? Santiago still wants to know.

"I'm still boggled on that," he said. "I have no clue, and I'm still waiting for an explanation."

Santiago's most recent bills says he used "negative 46,000 gallons" of water in his last billing cycle.

Friday was also Santiago's wife's birthday – and he said this was the best birthday present he could have given her. 

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