An elderly couple in Warrensville Heights called their experience with Cleveland Water a nightmare. Their reality with the Cleveland Water Department led them to 5 On Your Side Investigators for help with their outrageous water bill.
"Looking back on what you've dealt with, how do you feel?” we asked 74-year-old Jessie Rutledge.
“I feel hurt, in a way, that they would do this to us,” Jessie told us. She paused a moment as tears welled up in her eyes. She and her ill 84-year-old husband William Rutledge were in a battle over water.
"I've never had a bill this high,” said Jessie.
She and William were renting out their former home in East Cleveland but the tenants moved out. Jessie called Cleveland Water to shut the water off last October. Cleveland Water did not shut it off.
"It had flooded out the house because it had been running all this time,” said Jessie's daughter Victoria Luke told us pipes froze and burst causing thousands of dollars in damage. And, on top of that, Cleveland Water charged them for all that water.
"$6,000 between the water and sewer bills…(because) they didn't turn the water off like they said they were going to do," said Luke.
Jessie kept a log of her many phone calls and even visits to Cleveland water since that January bill. Cleveland Water did nothing again, and again.
"How does that make you feel when they totally disregard you?” we asked Jessie.
“I just...I got upset."
Luke lives in California. In total frustration with Cleveland Water, she flew back to help her mom and dad. "Month after month (Cleveland Water) let this go on. You never contact (my parents). You never shut it off. You never say anything."
She called Cleveland Water and talked to a supervisor. She put him on speakerphone.
"He just wouldn't answer any questions,” said Jessie. “Talking all over her. Just very disrespectful. And not professional at all!" she added.
"I asked him when is it time to just do the right thing?" Victoria told us.
Apparently, that right time was after 5 On Your Side Investigators contacted Cleveland Water about the family's ridiculous bills. We're wondering why it takes a television station calling for them to then do the right thing.
Cleveland water just issued a statement saying -in part- “… there was a billing error".
It wants "to make sure this doesn't occur in the future" and the Rutledges’ problem is "a valuable training opportunity" for its staff. The department has erased the erroneous charges on the Rutledges’ bills.
But our on-going investigation "Drowning in Dysfunction" has exposed in the last several years numerous billing errors, unexplained huge-bills, and a water department that continues to rank last in the Midwest according to a JD Power study. Problems that force children like Luke to contact us.
"It's a bad mark on the water company and the city of Cleveland. For not taking care of their elderly properly," said Luke.
William, who was too ill to talk to us on camera, and Jessie are now added to the names of other elderly people we've highlighted in our past reporting.
Jessie's message to Cleveland Water?
"Put themselves in my place, because this could happen to them."
Here is the entire statement from Cleveland Water:
After reviewing Mrs. Rutledge’s information, we found there was a billing error associated with her account. As a result, we have adjusted Mrs. Rutledge’s account.
We are taking steps to mitigate the risks associated with this account to make sure this doesn’t occur in the future. This incident will serve as a valuable training opportunity so we can better educate our customer service staff. As part of our on-going training efforts to provide excellent service, we will continue to hold ourselves accountable when we fall short of our customer’s expectations.
We encourage our customers to contact us at 216-664-3130 with any billing or service questions. We will work to ensure our customers receive the best service possible.