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Friction grows as four different homes share single water line and water bill grows to $12,000

Posted at 4:16 PM, May 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-29 17:23:00-04

A rare utility set up has led to friction among neighbors living on one tiny stretch of roadway in Cleveland’s Brooklyn Centre neighborhood. The vexing situation involves multiple, individual properties being serviced by a single water line and a single Cleveland Division of Water account.

Located three blocks south of Riverside Cemetery, the 2400 block of Dobson Court is a narrow, single lane roadway nestled between commercial properties. The tree-lined road features four homes built in the early 1900s that are serviced by the same water line. The area is now zoned local retail.

Melissa Reyes holds the account because the water line first passes through her property.

“I’m billed for all of [the homes] completely. It’s up to me to decipher what he owes and what I owe,” Reyes said. “I do have my own personal meter which makes it easier for myself but it doesn't help at all with the other three houses because I don’t own them.”

Neighbors said, historically, the account holder would provide a copy of the water bill to the other homeowners or tenants living on the street. From there, the group of neighbors would determine how much each person owes. The neighbors said the unwritten arrangement has worked flawlessly for decades.

That was until Reyes bought her home in 2015. The other three homes on the block are owned by a local attorney, according to property records.

“It’s been a huge dispute because the bill has gotten so backed up and so far behind that neither one of us can agree on a total,” Reyes said. “I have tried to contact [the other property owner]. I’ve tried to solve this but it seems as though he wants to tell me what I owe him instead of trying to communicate and figure out a solution.”

Reyes claims the owner of the other three properties failed to pay on several water bills, which ate away on ‘credits’ that Reyes had on the account. Neighbors who did not want to be identified allege Reyes has been holding the water bills hostage, leaving them unable to figure out how much their share of the bill should be.

The neighbor dispute turned into a stalemate. Neither party has made a payment since 2016, records show. The outstanding balance on the bill exceeds $12,000. The ballooning water bill has only been made worse by a recent leak in one of the home’s basement. According to billing records, water consumption has skyrocketed the past three months.

“I just want my water bill separated. I want to pay what I owe and not have my water shut off for someone else’s financial responsibility,” Reyes said. “That’s not too much to ask. They should be able to have a water bill for each home.”

Officials from the Cleveland Division of Water characterized the situation on the street as rare and unique. Typically, each individual property has a pipe running from the home to where the main city water line is located, typically under the street. With the traditional setup, a water meter can be installed on the home’s water line, which enables accurate readings of that home’s usage.

“With situations that are this unique, we generally review each one on a case-by-case basis to see how we can help,” a Cleveland Division of Water spokesman said. “In this instance, we’re working directly with the customers to see what the best path forward is regarding water service to the homes. As we do in any situation where there is an outstanding balance, we’ll work with the customers regarding a payment plan.”

Water department officials tell News 5 they are going to be working with Reyes and the other neighbors living on Dobson Court to figure out the best course of action in the short and long term. Additionally, a shut-off notice filed earlier this month has been rescinded as the water department and neighbors wade through the murky situation.

“We’ve temporarily turned the water back on while we work with the customers to identify term solution,” the spokesman said. “When customers encounter unique situations like this, we encourage them to reach out to us so we can work with them before service is interrupted.”