Sunday, February 26, 2012
Lesson: Fight Your Excessive Water Bill!
After making numerous calls to see if there was any sort of venue outside of court to arbitrate the matter (there was not), we paid the bill and took Peel to small claims court to recover what we felt was the excessive charge.
The trial was last Friday and we scored a resounding victory! We received the amount we were seeking ($429, with interest), reimbursement of our court costs ($175), a fee for preparation for trial ($100), and a sum for "inconvenience" ($400). Together, the court awarded us over $1,100! An utter rout! The judge was shocked that Peel had allowed this matter to come to trial and said it should have shut us up with a few hundred dollars months and months ago.
Small claims court in Canada is much different than it is in New York City. This was an actual trial before an attentive judge (in at least one instance in New York, we were effectively denied a chance to fully explain our case). I did not necessarily expect a fair hearing, so I was extremely pessimistic about our chances, assumed the municipality would be given the benefit of any doubts, and would have gladly taken half of the $429 as a settlement rather than proceed to trial.
A huge point in our favour was that the amount in question was so high. If the bill had been double or even triple our normal usage, it likely would not have gone our way. Also, Peel harped on alleged abnormalities with our toilets in their two home inspections. They claimed the high bill could have been caused by the abnormalities. But our bills for the periods in which the visits were made were two of the lower bills we have had in five years at our house. There was also a pattern of exaggeration (aka lying) in its case (a water level in one toilet was "a little high" in the inspector's on-site notes, "high" in a report she later filed at her office, and "very high" in Peel's defence papers). In the end, Peel's argument was that they acted friendly to us and meters never malfunction and cause high readings. ... Oh, and Peel's lawyer (an articling student, actually, arguing what the judge said was "a lousy case") slipped up during her closing statement and admitted that we had proven our case!
Laura said that when the judge first said he was ruling in our favour, two of Peel's witnesses sitting in the back of the room actually gasped! I'm sorry I missed hearing that. (Laura blogged a bit about the day here; earlier posts about the bill are here and here.)
In my research, I found very little information about how often excessive billing mistakes occur and even less about citizens who have taken on their city's or municipality's utility company. I wanted to post this in case anyone is in a similar situation to what we faced and is searching for information. Don't despair - sometimes common sense wins the day!