A broken water meter leads to a flood of bills for a Whitehorse condo corp

A Whistle Bend condo corporation is asking city council to refund more than $18,000 in water bills after its water meter was broken for 14 months.

A Whistle Bend condo corporation is asking city council to refund more than $18,000 in water bills after its water meter was broken for 14 months.

Karin Keeley-Eriksson, the president of the numbered condo corporation 221, told council the flat rate the complex was charged over that time was more than three times what it pays when the water is measured by a meter.

“It simply doesn’t seem fair to us that the city should benefit financially from our misfortune of having broken equipment we weren’t able to repair,” she said at the council meeting Feb. 6.

The 61-unit complex, made up of triplexes and detached homes, has inflow and outflow meters that calculate exactly how much water is being used.

One of those meters broke in May 2015 a few months before the corporation took over from the builder, Evergreen Homes. The problem was first spotted when the complex’s water bill shot up, Keeley-Eriksson told council.

When that happened city staff acknowledged that the bill was too high and agreed to charge the corporation an average of the previous three monthly bills instead. That lowered the cost by nearly $5,000, she said.

After that the complex was charged a flat monthly rate.

The majority of Whitehorse residents don’t have water meters and pay the same flat rate for their water and sewer.

The rate is decided every year based on how much it costs to run and maintain the water and sewer system, said Peter O’Blenes, the city’s director of infrastructure and operations.

“Flat rates are for those who do not have a meter, and that is mainly residential homes,” he said.

Water and sewer rates are not covered by property taxes.

The latest operations budget raised those rates by four per cent in 2017 to $78.98 a month from $75.94.

The corporation was charged the flat rate for each of its 61 units. O’Blenes said the city bills users based on how many units are ready to be occupied, not how many are actually being lived in.

Keeley-Eriksson gave council documentation showing the corporation’s bills once the meter was repaired in July 2016.

The $18,845 that they’re asking to be refunded is an estimate of how much the board thinks it overpaid.

City staff have agreed to look into the problem and get back to the board by the end of the month.

The city’s water utility bylaw does give the city the option to estimate a water meter reading based on either previous consumption patterns or a daily average consumption for the property.

O’Blenes said the city is still looking into the situation. But he suspects the complex had to be put on the flat rate when the meter broke because of how new it was.

It had only been running for about six months when the problem was uncovered and that doesn’t allow much of a history for the city to consider, he said.

“If you’ve been operating for three or four years then we have a better chance of (knowing how much you spend),” he said, adding that water bills can go up, particularly in the summer months.

The situation has the complex’s original builder suggesting a change to the bylaw.

Joe Glynn, director with Evergreen Homes, said the company did the best it could to get the meter fixed during the 14 months it wasn’t working.

He calls the city’s flat rate of around $75 a month “exorbitantly higher” than what is paid by other condo developments the company has built that use meters.

“How could you legally charge double, triple more than what the standard city per capita metered rate is for other units?”

He suggests the city needs to come up with a new flat rate for multi-residential condo corporations in this kind of situation.

It could be an average of what’s spent at three or four similar condo complexes, possibly with a small premium added on top of that, Glynn said.

“I agree that everyone has to pay their fair share. In a situation like this I agree, charge the condo corporation a bit more. But just a fair amount more.”

Unlike residential homes where the city is responsible for the underground pipes leading up to a home, condo corporations are often responsible for some of their own underground infrastructure, Glynn said.

“The pipes that are all under the land, that service the 61 homes, they were bought and paid for by the developer, they’re not city property. The condo corporation actually has to service and maintain their own pipes.”

Any change to the bylaw would have to be made by city council.

As for this specific case, if the current bylaw was not followed, city administration could go back and re-calculate the complex’s bills, O’Blenes said.

“But right now, to my understanding, we’re following the bylaw.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com