Condo with long-unpaid $200,000 water bill says city 'screwed up'

University One manager says city assessed late fees after signing legal agreement saying it wouldn't

  • A water bill from the city of Baltimore dated Feb. 28 shows Ivymount Apartments owing $1,438,362.43. Minutes after the photo shoot, a city employee called the apartment complex to say that the bill had been adjusted to $13,507.87.
A water bill from the city of Baltimore dated Feb. 28 shows Ivymount… (Karl Merton Ferron / The…)
August 24, 2012|By Luke Broadwater | The Baltimore Sun

It's true that University One Condominiums in Charles Village has a water bill of about $200,000 that hasn't been paid since 2006. But that bill is the city's fault, not the condo's, according to University One property manager Michael Klein.

"They're so screwed up. Their system is so flawed," said Klein, who contacted The Sun this week -- nearly three weeks after a reporter left the business a series of messages about the long-unpaid bill. (Klein says his response to The Sun's questions was delayed because he was on vacation.)

According to Klein, the condo had fallen behind on its water bill in 2003 by about $30,000. The business negotiated with the city and entered into a signed legal agreement in which the condo would pay about $23,000 of scheduled payments over time, but not be charged any late fees or penalties, he said.  

Then, three years later, the condo association received a bill assessing it a series of late fees and penalties, totaling nearly $100,000, Klein said. That bill has grown over time, as more penalties were added, to about $200,000 today.

He said the condo receives a turn-off notice from City Hall about once a year, but has its lawyers call the city to remind the billing department of the legal agreement, and the city declines to turn off the water to the building's occupants.

"University One has done absolutely nothing wrong," Klein said. "Their accounting has gotten so screwed up, there's not even one particular person to blame."

He said retaining lawyers to fight the bills also costs the condo money it wouldn't otherwise be spending.

Earlier this month, The Sun revealed that a dozen area businesses, nonprofits and federal government organizations owe the city of Baltimore more than $10.5 million on water bills that are past due by at least six months. In some cases, the businesses haven't made any payments on their accounts in years. The long-overdue bills were among only 100 accounts included in The Sun's review. The city's water billing system has more than 410,000 customers.

Those who have large delinquent bills listed on city records offered a variety of explanations and several argued that they were overbilled. Bankrupt RG Steel, which owes the city nearly $7 million on three different water and wastewater accounts, fought City Hall in court over one of the three bills. 

The city's Department of Public Works has said its workers plan to make each organization pay what they owe. 

The delinquent commercial bills come as the water system has been grappling to resolve problems identified in a city audit released this year. City officials acknowledged that they had overcharged 38,000 mostly residential customers by at least $4.2 million and issued refunds. The auditor has called for another $5 million in refunds.

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