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Detroit Homeowner Forced to Pay $5,200 Water Bill From Previous Owner
Homeownership can be a doozy and Detroit homeowner Nicole Geissinger is learning that the hard way. The 32-year-old physician was excited to move into her new home and start a fellowship at Detroit Medical Center.
However, things quickly took a turn when Geissinger received a water bill from the city totaling $5,200.
Surely the new homeowner couldn’t be responsible for the outstanding balance, right?
After calling the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Geissinger learned that in addition to a new home, she had also indeed acquired the unpaid utility bill. If left unpaid, she faced late fee charges of more than $250 a month until it was paid off.
Already strapped with student loan debt, paying the bill in full would require Geissinger to wipe out all of her savings.
“I just moved in,” Geissinger told Metro Times. “How can I be culpable for it?”
According to DWSD, the large bill came from the previous owner. Under Michigan law, new homeowners are responsible for the previous owner’s delinquent water bills.
DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh’s response to the issue: “This is a dispute between the buyer and the previous owner,” as reported by Metro Times.
Normally, issues like this are resolved during the home buying process, however, that’s where things get complicated. Metro Times reviewed invoices and financial transaction documents showing the previous owner paid what she was billed.
So what’s the issue here?
Well, a deeper dive uncovered an issue with the water meter which wasn’t relaying usage to the city for over a year. In other words, the previous owner’s bills only consisted of a flat service fee and not the actual water usage fee itself.
The discovery was made when Geissinger moved into the house and a DWSD employee came to the home to check the meter to determine water usage from the previous owner.
That’s how DWSD got to the $5,200 balance.
Peckinpaugh says DWSD made attempts to notify the previous owner about the meter readings.
“We reached out to the original owner on several occasions about a meter inspection and updating the account,” he said. “We had a very specific notice on the front of the bill.”
The notice read, “The water usage history graph is not available for your account due to no water meter or no water consumption in the last 13 months.”
According to the city, the previous owner never contacted DWSD about the issue.
Unfair as it may be, Geissinger is still on the hook for a water bill she had nothing to do with, aside from buying the home.
“I am early, early in my career. I’m a new homeowner,” Geissinger says. “But I’m not in a position where I can’t pay the bill. There will be a lot of late fees, and it will hurt my credit rating. I’m stuck with a more than $5,000 water bill.”
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