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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Billed for...nothing.

I got hit with a water bill a few weeks back--$90 per quarter, sewer maintenance fee. The bill, printed on official letterhead containing the seal of the City of Buffalo, read:

Dear MEGAN G MCNALLY:

According to the City of Buffalo Tax Department the above listed property was purchased at the October 2008 foreclosure sale.

The flat or metered rate account balance owed prior to the October 2008 sale, has been removed and the mailing information has been updated.

For metered accounts a final meter reading may be needed in order to properly adjust the bill.

Please call Customer Service if there are any questions regarding this account.

The actual water bill was on another sheet of paper. Included was a confusing list of what seemed like 20 different rates, the amount of water usage (which for me was zero), and an estimated water bill. My question was...did I actually have to pay it? The people at the foreclosure sale told me that from day one I'd be liable for anything to do with my house, but it was December 22nd and I had yet to receive any deed stating I was the rightful owner to any property. And how can you be hit with bills if you can't actually claim ownership?

I assumed that there was no way to avoid this fee and that I'd just have to pay it, but I figured I'd call the water authority just to make sure. Well, the woman who answered the phone wasn't positive about the fee, but told me that I would most likely be required to pay it because the city had already reduced my bill since the foreclosure sale (the previous owner owed ~$1500). I politely asked if she could check with someone who could provide a more definitive answer. She put me on hold for about 5 minutes, talking to a superior of some sort. Upon returning, she was flustered and said something to the effect of:

"Oh well, we wouldn't normally do this but....I mean, since you don't officially have the deed yet...well, my manager says we aren't technically allowed to charge you so...your fee will be waived until the next quarter."

It was like they were doing me a huge favor by waiving the fee, when really shouldn't they not have charged me in the first place?? This is one instance where it seems like the water authority gets away with charging people incorrectly. It really makes me irritated because I know that probably
95% of the population would assume that the water authority knows what they're doing, it's a quarterly charge, there's no getting around it, and they would end up giving them the $90! And in my neighborhood, who can afford to dish out $90 for a bill that isn't even legitimate??

It's totally not fair because I can guarantee that most people
a) would have paid unnecessarily
b) would not think/know to call and question the bill
c) would have had to pay regardless because the workers probably decided on a whim to waive the fee, based on my politeness and the fact that it was the holiday season!

I guess I'm slowly but surely learning about home ownership...but if I can't figure this stuff out and am encountering problems, wouldn't you say that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system? At least in my neighborhood it sets a person up for paying fees which they can't afford to pay, causing them to have liens on their property, leading to foreclosures and ever increasing urban blight. Now, that may seem a little overdramatic when just talking water bills, but add up all the fees, utilities costs, taxes, etc etc and you can see how this can negatively impact a neighborhood!


1 comment:

Becky Davies said...

This is so interesting, and classic. There are such inefficiencies in the system that it creates huge disincentives for people interested in rehabbing, or even purchasing a house. As if finding a job and moving aren't hard enough!