in Houston, Texas
North Houston man sues city over $9,087 water bill
Friday, Sep 28, 2012, 10:58AM CST
By Steve Miller

A couple years ago, we managed to get the unreasonable water bill of a resident reduced to almost nothing, as it should have been.

The resident, Morris Wiegman, had been wrongly billed for $2,500, then, even more wrongly, treated like a pest by the city of Houston. His saga began in September and ended in November, which is lightning quick in the world of bureaucrats but painfully long for a 65-year-old in poor health, as Wiegman was.

Due to the flood of communications we received from other folks with similarly inflated water bills, we understand this is a common occurrence.  When something happens over and over, it would seem someone would want to fix it, unless there’s money being made. It seems that most people suck it up and pay the bill. Fighting City Hall is a tough ride.

Then comes Jose Valera, a North Houston resident who has filed a case against the city of Houston, which is threatening to shut his water off for a $9,087.98 bill.

In a court filing, Valera, who has owned his home since 2003, says he came home in February to find water bubbling up around the city meter on his property. A city inspector came out and advised Valera that the water was coming from his side of the the water meter so Valera had the leak fixed by a couple of plumber buddies. Should be a simple end, maybe a small charge for some extra water usage.

But the $9,000 bill was a bit much. Valera claims there was no standing water, no flooding that would cause usage of an alleged 719,000 gallons in February. As the court petition notes, that amount would fill 38 average-sized home swimming pools or cover the annual usage for 5.6 households in the city.

Valera went to the city, which was happy to fix his bill. Down to $4,590.86. He appealed the amount and, at a June hearing, officer Lynette Howe ruled against him. According to her LinkedIn page, Howe studied accounting in college. Not plumbing, not utility management.

Valera filed his petition asking both for relief from the charges and for a temporary restraining order against the city, and on Sept. 14 the court granted an order keeping the water on at Valera’s place pending his next hearing Oct. 29. This time the hearing won’t be in front of the water folks, but in a state district court. Valera is taking on city hall.

See the case against the city of Houston by clicking here.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of pipe water leak by flickr user Pricey, used via a Creative Commons license.

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