CHICAGO (CBS) — One woman has a water bill of more than $8,000, even though she hasn’t used a drop.
As CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards reported, it’s all because she didn’t understand the city’s complicated rules for turning it off.
When we visited Tokiwa Hendricks’ childhood home, she was afraid to take us inside.
“The house is not livable,” she said.
The house has 16 safety violations. No one has lived there since her grandmother passed away in 2014.
“There’s a lot of memories here,” Hendricks said.
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Now, Hendricks just wants to repair the home. But she can’t afford to do so, because the city slammed her with a water bill for $8,737.35 – for a house the city itself has declared “dangerous and unsafe.”
“To say that someone was living in this house and water was being used – it’s just that’s not true,” Hendricks said.
After her grandmother died, Hendricks did what most people do.
“We were still dealing with the grief of her loss,” she said.
Hendricks never thought she would get charged for water no one uses. But Chicago has specific rules for shutting off water.
“We never knew that we had to register to have it vacant,” Hendricks said.
She was supposed to pay a registration fee that officially tells the city that the house is empty. But because she didn’t, the city billed her thousands.
And the water is not running at the house.
“We don’t have $8,000 to pay for water that wasn’t being used,” Hendricks said.
The house doesn’t have a water meter, so Hendricks’ bills don’t show the zero gallons she used. The usage is estimated based on the house’s size.
“They’re just taking advantage of people because they don’t know the proper steps,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks forgot to register the house vacant, but the Water Department messed up too. They put multiple stickers on the house that say, “water transition” in big, bold letters.
But they never shut it off or stopped charging Hendricks.
“If you’re putting stickers up saying you’re going to turn it off, then why are you not turning it off?” Hendricks said.
What does the Water Department say? When Hendricks turned to the department for help, she said they suggested “a payment plan for water we never use.”
So Hendricks scoured the internet for help, and came across our CBS 2 “Getting Hosed” series.
“Oh my gosh, like this is happening to a ton of people in Chicago,” Hendricks said.
So far, we’ve done many stories, and have heard from dozens of others. We have also helped many.
“To know that your city is literally just taking money away from you needlessly just because they can? Like, that’s not a good feeling,” Hendricks said.
And so far, Hendricks is still getting hosed.