In New York City, getting an accurate water bill is as unlikely as getting a taxi at rush hour," says Michael Lockhart, president of American Telephone and Utility Consultants and founder of The Coalition for Water Bill Justice. "Co-op and condo owners are all-too-familiar with the problem–excessive numbers of apartments, toilets, and baths being billed on frontage; overestimated bills on broken meters; bills calculated using incorrect rates; buildings double-billed on both frontage and metered billing; bills with overlapping billing periods–and so on and so forth."
The effect of this "flawed" billing system has been the growth of an industry known as utility bill auditing. According to Lockhart, "Those of us in this industry have saved New York City customers millions of dollars by obtaining refunds for past billing errors and by securing our customers the lowest utility rates available."
Reacting to such comments, DEP’s Bureau of Customer & Conservation Services deputy commissioner Lawrence Schatt says that under the guise of The Coalition for Water Bill Justice, Lockhart has made false and misleading statements. "He respresents the Coalition as a ‘grassroots organization created to advocate for fair billing practices for water customers in New York City.’ In reality, he is soliciting business for his company, American Telephone and Utility Consultants, which charges customers as much as 50 percent of any reduction in their bills." Lockhart responds that Schatt has been critical of utility auditors because "we have discovered countless billing errors and have submitted thousands of claims to get refunds for our customers." Pointing out that a recent water board decision has reduced the time frame to challenge a bill from six years to two years, Lockhart further states, "Yes, rather than improving their flawed billing systems, the DEP moved to limit consumers from disputing bills."
The coalition’s primary concern is combatting what Lockhart calls DEP’s massively flawed billing system. "Nine out of ten New York City properties we audit have water bill errors, and quite often, these errors have been undiscovered for years. Once errors are found, navigating the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) bureaucracy can take from months to years to resolve even minor billing problems," Lockhart says.
Here are two real examples according to Lockhart: