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Getting Hosed: Man sues City of Chicago over nearly $20,000 water bill at three-flat he was trying to sell

Homeowner takes city to court for nearly $20,000 water bill
Homeowner takes city to court for nearly $20,000 water bill 02:46

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A nearly $20,000 water bill and no explanation – if it sounds familiar, that is because the CBS 2 Investigators have been digging into such mysterious bills for years as part of our Getting Hosed series.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, one homeowner, Jim Anderson, is taking the city to court in order to try to get an explanation.

Anderson has already paid the water bill he received. He had to in order to sell his property.

But he is suing the city because he says they have refused to provide an explanation for the enormous bill.

"When I think I can't be any more astounded, you know, I'm suddenly more astounded," Anderson said.

Anderson has owned a three-flat in Canaryville for 23 years.

After his tenant had a fire in November 2020, he decided to sell the building. He said his water bills were typically less than $200.

The building sat vacant for months. And then the water bill came.

"When we got the readings, it indicated that we owed $18,000 as part of the certification," Anderson said.

Flabbergasted, Anderson asked the city to come out and read the meter again.

They did, and claimed he'd used another $1,100 worth of water in three weeks.

"The new bill was $19,000 and change," Anderson said. "This is like a second red flag."

How did a vacant property that passed a thorough inspection process in order for the sale to close rack up another $1,100 in water usage? Anderson began to worry the meter was faulty.

But it turns out the meter was removed. And when Anderson asked for detailed meter data and other relevant records explaining the charges, he said he was stonewalled by the Department of Water Management.

"They have the meter. They just - you know, we'd just like to know, does it function properly?" Anderson said. "Well, we can't seem to get access to the meter short of legal action; litigation."

He says filing this lawsuit to get those answer was his only option.

"It shouldn't come to this, you know, to get some basic answers from the City of Chicago," Anderson said.

The Chicago Department of Law does not comment on pending litigation. But in a motion to dismiss the suit the Law Department said, "the Andersons received estimated bills from the City, applied for a Full Payment Certificate when they sold their rental property, and were unhappy when the actual usage exceeded the City's estimate."

Anderson says such a large discrepancy just does not make sense, and hopes his fight for answers might benefit other water customers who are also getting hosed.

"I'd like to see other people benefit from some type of step, or action, or something that breaks our way," he said.

Right now, there is a hearing date set for May 8. We'll be watching this case closely, as it could set a precedent for other water customers who are fighting for answers.  

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