Oops! Detroit shuts off water to homeowners with up-to-date bills

Downtown Detroit


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James Hill came home from a long day of work and tried to wash his hands.

The spigot was dry.

The Detroit Free Press editor couldn’t believe it. His water bill is automatically withdrawn from his bank account every month. He checked online. “Sure enough, my account is up to date,” he said.

Frustrated, Hill called the emergency line for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and was told that he was among dozens of Detroiters whose water was shut off recently despite having up-to-date accounts.

It also happened Wednesday to Courtney Hermon-Taylor at a house she recently bought from the Detroit Land Bank, the much-hyped group charged with improving neighborhoods.

“My Land Bank house has a brand new steam boiler I just put in that requires water to run, and if it had been any colder out, I would have been out thousands of dollars if all my nice new pipes and boiler had frozen!” she exclaimed.

It’s unclear how many people improperly lost water – or why. Mayor Duggan’s office said it has become aware of the situation and is investigating. A spokesman declined further comment.

DWSD said it’s looking into the matter and would respond later today.

This is the second big blunder by DWSD this month. We revealed two weeks ago that DWSD has grossly mismanaged the tracking of broken hydrants, endangering countless lives and property.

Hill, a vocal supporter of Detroit and longtime resident, vented about his frustrations on Facebook.

“It’s bad enough that we can’t get decent city services. But when you’re trying to do things right – auto bill pay, that clearly shows I have paid every month on time – it is just frustrating to have to endure this kinda crap!”

News of the improper shutoffs are likely going to renew calls for a moratorium. Detroit has been shutting off water to thousands of residents with delinquent bills, drawing criticism from as far away as the United Nations because so many of the city’s residents are impoverished and unable to catch up on their bills.

Mayor Duggan has defended the shutoffs as a necessary way to collect much-needed revenue for a city that just emerged from bankruptcy.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Chris Steinmayer

    This is why I have the tool’s to turn the water or gas back on if necessary. I pay my bills on time, but my inner former boy scout says always be prepared.

  • banmar

    This happened in Philadelphia, too, after they finally put shut-off valves for gas and water on the pipes leading from the street into the residence. All Accounts Receivable has to do is either include or exclude a comma after a set of consecutively-listed addresses and people who paid their bills get screwed.

  • Aaron Sadler

    Stuff like this reminds me that I’m part of the problem: I really want to see the city turn around and truly believe it can. However I just bought a house in an inner suburb of Oakland County that’s established.

    I read stories like this and realize that I don’t have the patience to tolerate the rough edges getting sanded over. So when it comes down to it, I don’t put my money where my mouth is and I plan on residing in my safe, boring suburb where I just maintain the status quo.

    • bebow

      Are you feeling guilty?

      • Aaron Sadler

        No, not really.

        • bebow

          Good. The situation is too risky. We’ll see what happens with the next recession.

  • JC

    The city is broke. Not just financially.

  • bebow

    Are DWSD employees still getting drunk on the job?