CLEVELAND — Stop me if you've heard this one: the Cleveland Water Department hands out a bill for thousands of dollars, claims no responsibility, and expects senior citizens to just pay up. It's no joke. It's happened again.
"It just doesn't make any sense that they would do something like this,” said Angela Hendricks.
She’s fired up.
"I'm not paying this! It's not my fault!" she said.
Her mother recently passed away leaving behind Hendricks’ childhood home on Glendale Avenue in Cleveland. Hendricks lives in North Carolina but flew up and paid what she thought was the last water bill, which was around $26.
She told us she contacted Cleveland Water to turn the water off at the home.
"I called the water department. Of course, they have no record of me calling," Hendricks said in a frustrated tone.
Months after her request to turn the water off, she was ready to sell the house and had a realtor go into the home.
"She said, ‘Your mother's basement is destroyed.’ I said, ‘What do you mean destroyed?"
The water heater was gone. Someone had stolen it. There was big time water damage. The water had not been turned off.
Hendricks then received bills from the city of Cleveland.
“You tell me I owe $25,000? I don't think so! Not in this lifetime!" Hendricks told us. Cleveland Water said she owed nearly $9700 and the sewer bill was more than $18,000
Angela couldn't believe it. She called Cleveland Water and said she talked to the assistant director.
"She says, 'Ms. Hendricks, I agree. Don't worry about it. We'll handle it,’" said Hendricks.
The way they "handled it" was to send a letter saying they would knock off 50% of both bills. However, that still left the water bill at nearly $5,000 and the sewer bill is more than $9,000.
"It was the irresponsibility of the water department,” said Hendricks.
She questions how Cleveland Water even allows a bill to get that high in the first place. However, Hendricks knows from our "Drowning in Dysfunction" investigation that it’s not uncommon. “This is not the first time this has happened to a senior,” Hendricks told us.
Just take a look back 6 months ago. "I've never had a bill this high,” said Jessie Rutledge during our report in July. Jessie and William Rutledge had asked Cleveland Water to turn off the water to their former East Cleveland home. Pipes ended up bursting and their daughter Victoria saw the massive bill. "$6,000 between the water and sewer bill,” Victoria told us back then. “They didn't turn the water off like they said they were going to do."
In the Rutledge case, Cleveland Water admitted "there was a billing error." Plus, it wanted "to make sure this doesn't occur in the future." Well, just months later, Hendricks said she's going through the same situation. “I don't have a money tree in the back yard where I go pull $20s, and $50s, and $100s just to give a city that's not doing their job.”
Cleveland Water told us it is reaching out to the customer. Meanwhile, Hendricks has a simple request. "I just want them to do the right thing. I want them to stop doing this."
As we’ve reported in the past, top-rated water departments in the country offer one-time relief for problems like this. And in Akron, City Councilman Bruce Kilby just introduced legislation that would forgive the sewer portion of these kinds of problems once every three years.