A Chicago couple’s excitement over their first home quickly soured after receiving a notice from the city that threatened the possibility of water shut-off. What followed was a months-long search for a water meter and confusion over who would pay for a new one, according to the homeowners.
First-time homebuyers Rachel Skybetter and her husband, Kyle Thoms, bought their Dutch Colonial house in the Old Irving Park neighborhood in March. If moving-in was the easy part, the hard part came a few weeks later when the couple found a flyer on their front door from the Department of Water Management.
“(It) said ‘we need to come to monitor your water meter’,” Skybetter said. “It just said you have ten days, or else.”
Skybetter said she complied with the city’s demand, but a water department employee could not locate a water meter in their house. While the couple never found out what happened to the home’s original water meter, they continued to pay estimated water bills.
Estimated water bills are common in Chicago. The charges are based on house size and the number of fixtures. As of September 30, the city said it has 193,506 non-metered residential accounts.
Still, Skybetter said the city sent more notices asking to examine their water meter or risk water shut-off.
“My only thinking for why we kept getting notices is that they weren’t very organized on their end,” Skybetter said.
Eventually, city employees found where the water meter should be installed: behind a patch of drywall in the couple’s basement.
However, Skybetter said the city provided her conflicting information about who would be responsible for the installation of a new water meter. And she said getting through to the water department to ask for clarification would not be easy.
“It seemed that if they wanted to bill me correctly, they should install the meter,” Skybetter said. “It felt like we were shouting into a void and no one was listening.”
NBC 5 Responds reached out to the Department of Water Management. Officials quickly responded to Skybetter’s concerns and installed a new water meter in her basement.
“A lot of times there is some miscommunication whether it’s on the part of the homeowner or on the part of the department, but we’re working on that trying to figure how to better that communication and understand what the consumer is actually looking for and what they actually need so we can provide better service,” said Department of Water Management commissioner Randy Conner.
The Department of Water Management’s MeterSave program provides free water meters for eligible homeowners. The department said having a water meter helps homeowners save an average of 30% annually on water bills for a single family home and 43% annually for a two-flat.
According to a department spokesperson, residents without water meters who own single family homes or two-flats and are current on their water bills, can request installation of a free meter. The spokesperson said existing water meters are only replaced free of charge for maintenance, customer complaints, testing and when there has been a theft committed.
The city estimates a residential customer would spend about $1,000 if they paid for a water meter installation themselves.
Now with a new water meter (and a baby on the way), Skybetter and her husband told NBC 5 Responds they have peace of mind.
“We want to be good citizens, so that’s why we jumped on this as soon as possible,” Skybetter said. “Tying it up with a bow feels a lot more complete than having no water meter.”