Monday, November 14, 2011

Harpeth Valley Utilities District Takes $200 out of Flood Victim's Pocket

I have been meaning to write this up for a while, but I kept waiting for Michelle Sadler or someone else at Harpeth Valley Utilities District to return the messages I left requesting an official amount and a quote. Since they have declined to do that, I am having to use my own estimate.

The Nashville flood of 2010 turned streets into lakes near my house
Harpeth Valley Utilities District Takes $200 out of Flood Victim's Pocket

In May of 2010, Nashville experienced the worst flood in a century when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks and the Corps of Engineers opened at least one dam upriver to prevent more flooding. The Harpeth River flooded into Bellevue, and even on my hill, I watched water pour into my crawl space for 2 days during the continuous rains. However, FEMA and my insurance company would not go in the crawl space to check, and from the opening they said it didn't look like the flood line reached very high. Later I was to discover how wrong they were.

On Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010, I came downstairs to find a massive flood in my house. It looked like it was pouring down from the ceiling, but there was no evidence of a problem upstairs. After trying to find out where the water was coming from, I finally called Harpeth Valley Utilities District and asked them to turn the water to my house off.

Let me interject -- in my mind -- when I asked that the water be turned off -- I thought I was asking for the water to be turned off. I'll get back to this in a moment.

Floors and subfloors damaged by both floods

By the time Harpeth Valley Utilities got out there, I had discovered the water was coming from the washing machine where a hose burst in the night and was shooting the water straight up to the ceiling. I would later learn it had pumped about 2,500 gallons of water into my house. My average usage is about 300 - 400 gallons, so later when I asked for an adjustment for the month of October, I was told it would be a dime. But that's not the big issue.

I was sent to live in the Bellevue Microtel for a couple of weeks which turned into 9 months, because when they started tearing out the floors, they discovered massive damage from the May flood where there was rotten wood, mold and mildew from a flood line more than 3 feet up in my crawl space. So for 9 months I lived in a Microtel, not using my water and with the water still turned off, yet I was billed every month.

In January I began requesting an adjustment for the time I had been without water and the massive amount that leaked in October. I was told the October adjustment would be a dime, and there was some technicality about you could only request one adjustment on a year and did I want that dime to be my one adjustment. I could have that a little off, but that's what I remember. So I declined the dime and began to try to get an adjustment for the time I was in the hotel, not knowing I would be there several months longer. I was told my water had never been turned off -- that when I requested my water be turned off -- they only turned it off at my house and did not turn off my service. I got some confusing information about how it would cost more to turn it off and then back on than my bills would be. I explained I thought I had already asked for it to be turned off and was told, no, they could turn it off in January, but that would not help me for October, November or December or through the current date in January.

Going through mold remediation from the May flood

I kept thinking I would be home in a couple of weeks as one contractor after another told me that's how long the job would take, and then delayed coming or had to put the rest of the job on hold to do mold remediation or other work. I didn't get home until July 8 of 2011 during which time I almost lost my dog, as well as the new business I was trying to start in addition to many of my possessions, and by then Harpeth Valley Utilities District had charged my about $200 for 9 months of service I never received.

I wrote two letters to the board and I continued trying to talk to their billing department and the office manager. In my conversation with the billing department, I was told something to the effect that because I wasn't a flood victim, I couldn't get an adjustment. I was  a victim of TWO floods -- the May flood and my own October flood -- but somehow that didn't qualify me as a flood victim.

It is now more than a year after my October flood, and I have never stopped calling Harpeth Valley Utilities District and requesting some kind of an adjustment, but I always get Michelle Sadler's voice mail, and although she has left me a message to call her back, I never reach her. I have left messages asking her to leave the figure of what I actually paid them for the nine months I lived in the Microtel on my phone, but she has opted not to do that.

As for my records, they were either discarded in the wet papers which were thrown away, or are still in storage. After all, the flood damage that somehow does not qualify me for any adjustment at Harpeth Valley Utilities District was bad enough to pack out five rooms of my home, ruin much of my paperwork and records, and cause most of my belongings to be packed away for over a year.

So to sum up, on Oct. 10, 2010, Harpeth Valley Utilities District turned off my water but not my service; charged me around $200 for 9 months when I lived in a hotel with the water still turned off to the house (except for one contractor who turned it back on one day to see if the water was still running to the house or not); and then refused to work with me -- an unemployed single woman with a back disability --  on any kind of adjustment.  And half of the bill is for a sewer line I am not hooked up to!

Why is there no option to change water service when a customer gets such terrible treatment from a company like Harpeth Valley Utilities District? Doesn't that make them a monopoly -- a monopoly that charges for a sewer line I don't use and for water service I had turned off in October of 2010? In any case, it makes them a company that does not care for their customers, and if not a monopoly, then a scam. What else do you call it when you are billed $200 for a service you never received?

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