MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The water’s back on at an apartment building on North West 135th Street in Opa-locka after it was shut off when the landlord didn’t pay a huge water bill.
It was difficult for tenants, where just flushing the toilet was an issue.
“We had to take turns actually, fill up buckets of water, put water in the toilet for it go down,” said one resident.
Raul Fernandez owns five apartment buildings in Opa-locka. He showed us some of his water bills. “Back in January of 2016, they were charging us $464,” he pointed out. “Then, all of a sudden in October, I get a bill of $25,227.74.”
He was stunned when he began receiving huge water bills from the city of Opa-locka and then Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department. “How could I pay the bill?” He asked. “It’s more than I take in for rent.”
Attorney Michael Pizzi sent a cease and desist letter to the county trying to stop them from turning off the water in the future while the matter is investigated.
“Mr. Mayor, water department, nobody should live in squalor because of your mistakes,” he continued, “Children, seniors, human beings, they have the right to bathe.”
On Wednesday, Pizzi plans to ask a judge for an injunction that would stop the county from turning off the water while the issue is investigated.
Doug Yoder is the deputy director of Miami-Dade’s water and sewer department. He says, “We’re saying that our best judgment those are accurate water bills.”
The county just completed the switch over to become a third party biller for the city of Opa-locka.
He said the problems with water billing began long before the county took over.
“In the past, the city had difficulty either issuing bills on a scheduled basis or with the accuracy of the bills and they had to rely on estimates,” he points out.
The issue right now, he says involves 252 business customers, including Fernandez and his buildings. He said in the past the city underestimated water usage and used an incorrect calculation for billing leading to those correct, higher bills, including back payment from July of 2019.
CBS4’s Ted Scouten asked, “the bottom line, these 252 businesses, they’re going to have to pay this amount of money? Yes,” Yoder said, “they’re required to pay.”
He followed that up with customers are able to work out payment plans.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent out a tweet saying, “After being briefed on the Opa-locka billing matter, I directed Miami Dade Water director Kevin Lynskyy to make reasonable payment plans with all Opa-locka account holders in arrears.”