Resident perseveres to plug leak

Persistence is the key if you want to beat City Hall, as Fish Hoek resident Lionel Tessendorf learned.

Mr Tessendorf said the municipality had billed him R109 409.93 plus VAT, for a water leak that was off his property.

A rebate adjustment was made to his July 2018 bill but the City wants him to pay R1 410.90 for the lost 160kl of water.

Not one to take no for an answer, Mr Tessendorf who emailed the municipality on Wednesday September 5 2018 and copied it to the ombudsman, is adamant that he doesn’t owe that amount as the leak was not on his property.

His emails to the ombud, the accounts and to the water and sanitation departments were ignored.

“Notwithstanding the fact that I told them the leak was off my property, I was billed R109 409.93 plus VAT. A rebate adjustment was made on the bill in 2018. Now the City claims I am liable for R1 410.90, but the leak was off my property,” said Mr Tessendorf.

He attached a municipal document, “Leak repair guide and FAQs”, which included a diagram that shows the “municipal service pipe between the meter and the boundary wall” is the responsibility of the City.

“I signed a rebate claim on the advice of councillor Simon Liell-Cock, who insisted it was necessary to start the process and that I would receive a full rebate,” Mr Tessendorf said.

An email from Yvette Stephen, the assistant to councillor Aimee Kuhl, to Spencer Langenhoven and Rushda Cummings asking that a “proper consultation to have the matter attended to without further delays”, was also ignored.

“Please get a response from the City of Cape Town,” Mr Tessendorf asked. “Even the ombudsman failed to respond to the email (September 4 2018) which was sent to all the departments.”

A few days after I asked the municipality for an explanation, Mr Tessendorf sent me an email he had received from the ombud’s office that investigator Andile Makalima had been assigned to the case (January 29 2019).

Before Mr Makalima started his investigation, Xanthea Limberg, the mayoral committee member for water and waste, confirmed that the leak occurred outside the property, on the section of pipe between the meter and the boundary wall and it was the, “City’s responsibility to maintain”.

“The impact of the leak on the customer’s account has been reversed. The remaining balance (R1 410.90) is for water used by occupants of the property during the month, and is based on previous consumption patterns. No further adjustments will be done on this bill,” she said.

Ms Limberg didn’t say why the person who fixed the leak didn’t note that it was a municipal pipe or how the billing error occurred. She didn’t say that the calculations were based on the punitive tariffs that applied during the drought. The leak occurred long before the DA’s Day Zero water crisis.

“The municipality’s response is incorrect. The R1 410.90 is calculated by applying the rebate rule. This rebate was applied to the major loss off my property. It is not for water that I used. The customer initiates a rebate claim when they are at fault. I did sign a rebate claim because Mr Liell-Cock assured me that by doing so the process of settling the issue would be set in motion. He stressed that a full rebate would be applied,” Mr Tessendorf explained.

Correspondence from Mr Tessendorf showed that the ombud’s office was unaware of the complaint even though Mr Makalima was already ostensibly investigating.

Mr Makalima told Mr Tessendorf he had spoken to Veronica Khuzwayo and that they would not consider a further reduction of the billed amount as the plumber’s report stated that the leak was on Mr Tessendorf’s property. But it wasn’t. The plumber said there was a ”break somewhere in the main cold-water feed to the house”.

“It’s obvious no one read the report, and the ombud was relying on feedback from Ms Khuzwayo. The ombudsman turned a blind eye to the City’s document which states the conditions where they are responsible,” said Mr Tessendorf, who did his own calculations and worked out that he owed R312, not R1 410.10.

In June this year, Mr Tessendorf emailed Ms Limberg because Mr Langenhoven, of water and sanitation, said they would recalculate the bill based on an average period during the drought.

Wrong again, the leak didn’t occur during the drought. Which was Mr Tessendorf’s point, and he told Mr Langenhoven so.

Why apply punitive drought rates to that amount. Is that ethical? Mr Langenhoven didn’t have an answer, but Ms Limberg did.

The City “re-investigated the claim and confirmed the leak had occurred outside the property’s boundary and it had been incorrectly processed as an underground leaks rebate”.

But not a word about the incorrect tariffs being applied.

Interestingly, Ms Limberg said that if a leak occurred outside the boundary of their private property, residents should report it to the City for attention and not their plumber.

“We appreciate Mr Tessendorf’s pro-active attitude, which led to it being processed as an underground leaks rebate, which is a one-time concession where we share the costs of a leak on private property with the resident.

“We understand that residents may worry that a leak between the meter and the boundary of their property will run up their bill. However, if the leak occurs outside their property and if it affects their bill, we will adjust in line with normal usage,” Ms Limberg said.

Mr Tessendorf said the City “only addressed the issue when Off My Trolley intervened”.