INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- CBS4 Problem Solvers hears from a lot of Hoosiers about their unexpectedly large or confusing utility bills, and two recent cases show how you can try to get your money back.
Kenya Watson got sick of looking at her water meter, wondering how much money the water running through it would cost her every month.
"My bill was outrageous, it was so high (that) it was hard for me to pay other bills," Watson said.
Watson owns a home in Arbor Village, a subdivision on the northwest side. Her bills spiked at nearly $300 last March.
"They would say that I had a problem, I needed to get a maintenance guy out and see if we had running water, but I had done that and there was no running water," Watson said.
Just a few miles away, Toiyae Brooks was frustrated by her water bills, too.
"Every month it would be (as much as) $200 charges in water," Brooks said.
The two cases are not connected: Brooks rented an apartment at La Perla Apartments. They have some similarities, though. Both the apartment complex and neighborhood associated changed the way they charged for water in recent years, according to the women.
Brooks said she first got a bill from Guardian Water and Power, an Ohio company, last April. After that, charges showed up directly on her apartment account.
At Arbor Village, the change happened because of a crisis. In 2014, Citizens Energy threatened to turn everyone's water off, because the neighborhood owed tens of thousands of dollars. The company that manages the neighborhood, Association Management Inc., or AMI, blamed homeowners who didn't pay their dues. They ended up working out a deal with Citizens to keep the water on.
After that, the neighborhood association hired Water Systems Incorporated out of Tennessee to take over water billing. Watson said they installed the meter, which is when she started having problems.
"When I first started getting water bills, they were starting off like $45, and then it started increasing," Watson said.
If you get utility bills you don't understand, there's a place you can go: the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, or IURC. Watson and Brooks both filed complaints, and it took some time, but both women received determinations saying they should be paid back for a year's worth of water bills.
An IURC spokesperson declined CBS4 Problem Solvers' request for an interview about their work, instead sending a statement via email:
“The role of the Consumer Affairs Division (CAD) at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is to be a resource for customers who have questions about their utility bills or would like to submit a complaint about a utility. To file a complaint, customers can go online to https://iurc.portal.in.gov/ or call 1-800-851-4268. Prior to initiating a complaint, customers should attempt to resolve the issue directly with the utility, landlord, or homeowners/condominium association before contacting CAD," spokesperson Stephanie Hodgin said.
"I just put it in their hands because I’ve never been in a situation like that," Brooks said.
Brooks' apartment managers credited her for her year's worth of water bills as part of a small claims court case, in which she was found to owe money for unpaid rent after she moved out before the end of her lease.
At Arbor Village, the IURC ordered management to pay back two other homeowners who also filed complaints, in addition to Watson. Recently, the agency filed additional complaints to try to collect the money.
"It seems like they are not honoring the ruling," Watson said.
Watson also ended up in small claims court for unpaid homeowner's association dues, but she was not credited for her water bills. She hoped to receive a refund soon.
CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to AMI and the Arbor Village Homeowner's Association for comment, but an attorney for the neighborhood said he could not speak about the case.
If you have a problem you'd like CBS4 Problem Solvers to consider, contact us at 317-677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.