landlord mistakesI’m fully aware that this site and those who visit the site frequently are doing so because of real estate investing. Cool! However, it is the small things that add up and kill our bottom line as Landlords. So in this article I’m really talking about my water bill, loss of monthly cash flow profits and how SAWS –  the water company in San Antonio, TX –  finally helped with my water bill and regain my profitability.

It’s a normal weekday. I turn the combination to my PO Box and see a water bill in my box. I open it up and see a frightening sight…. a $400 plus water bill. I’m devastated and confused. How can a duplex’s water bill be so high when the last month’s bill was only $80-$100? So after the initial shock I settle down and take the bill to the local water company.

I’m thinking it is a misread and they will fix this issue and everything will be back to normal… no problem. They told me that I owed every bit of the $400 water bill, so I pay it. I leave the office in a daze and confused state. I just could not believe that a residential water bill could be this high.

Real Estate Investor Friendly HandymanAfter the water company said my bill was correct, I went to the tenants of each unit and asked, “Do you have any leaks, a toilet that doesn’t work properly, or puddles under the house that may have caused a high water bill? “ The tenants told us about a couple minor leaks they had and a toilet was not flushing or working correctly, so we made the repairs in a timely manner. I’m thinking I’ll have a regular water bill next month, but in the back of my head I’m wondering how these minor repairs could have caused this massive water bill.

Next month I open my PO Box and open the envelope with the water bill in it and enclosed is yet another massive water bill. However, this time the bill was not as much as before, but still too high being that the bill was around $250.00. I decided to repeat the cycle of paying the bill, asking tenants did they notice any leaks, and pulling my hair out because I got yet another ridiculous water bill.

water-meter-landlordingI finally broke down and decided to have my plumber to look into a couple of things and to check if there was maybe a leak underneath the duplex. He looked at the water meter it didn’t detect a leak, he look under the house, and he comes to the conclusion that there are no leaks.

He does point out that one of the tenants has a lot of people living in her unit and that could be the cause for the increase in the bill. During this time I had both units filled with families. I was still in shock about how this water bill recently got so high. Last time, to my knowledge – Shamu did not live in the back yard of my duplex – lol.

The plumber told me, “Jarnell you need to have these people pay the water bill, because if they pay for the water bill they wouldn’t waste so much water.’ I agreed, but my hands were tied because the lease on both units said that the water was included in the monthly rent. So I made a compromise with the tenants and began charging the tenants for water usage over any amount above $150.

landlording tenant agreement responsibilitiesOver a period of time, I say about two years, the water bill was always around $200-$230.00. Each month during that period of time I felt like I was always getting over charged, but I could not prove it to the water company. One day one of the families moved out and we rented the unit to a single gentleman. The bill was still the same. As a side note when your water usage gets over a certain amount the water company also increases your sewer bill. OUCH!!

Eventually the single gentleman moves out and only one of the units in the duplex is occupied. The bill arrives and the bill is still around $200.00. Finally I thought this is my chance to prove to the water company that this bill cannot be correct.

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I go to SAWS and show them the bill. The teller looks and me and says ok this is what you owe. I begin to explain that this could not be correct because last month one of the units was not rented and it couldn’t be the same water usage as the previous month. The teller at the desk slowly begins to agree with me and decided it was in everyone’s best interest to have someone go out and check the meter.

The next month I get another high bill, but it is closer to $150.00 I pay the bill and ask about what was found after the employee came out to check the meter. To my surprise the teller told me that I had a sick meter and it was not functioning properly. She asked if I had a couple minutes so that the supervisor could explain to me the solution to my problem.

The supervisor eventually came out and told me, “Mr. Porter you won’t be paying a water bill for a long time. It seems you have been dealing with this issue for a while. I will get back with you when we determine what your credit will be. It should be a pretty large amount.” I was shocked and ecstatic because for years I had told SAWS, my mom, my plumber, and anyone that would listen something was wrong concerning the water bill for years.

duplex-san antonio

In closing water does matter! It matters so much that I received a $1,000 credit from the water company concerning the duplex. I gladly accepted it. I feel that I earned it. I also looked at the following month’s bill to make sure the sewer bill was adjusted as well. The following month the sewer bill was divided by half because the water usage went down substantially.

The morale of the story is sometimes it is not the tenants, unnecessary repairs, or taxes that eat into our cash flow as landlords. Sometimes it’s the high utility bills we automatically pay and don’t question that kill our profits. Always ask questions and follow your real estate instincts. In this instance it earned me a $1,000 credit and a much lower water bill in the future.

As always thanks for reading and successful investing.

Jarnell Porter

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