Jerusalem: Lawsuit filed over unexplained spikes in water bills

Jerusalemites sue Hagihon water company, claiming spikes of 500% or more in their water bills in recent months.

 Tsunami at Hagihon (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
Tsunami at Hagihon
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

Jerusalemites are filing a lawsuit against the Hagihon municipal water company after they received sudden spikes of 500% or more in their water bills in recent months, seemingly without any reason.

Attorney Hila Netaneli, a resident of Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood, said she was shocked after her last three water bills skyrocketed to NIS 1,000.

“I was living by myself in Talbiyeh and usually my water bill is something like NIS 70, which makes sense because I live alone. Suddenly, my last three water bills were NIS 1,000 and I didn’t understand what had happened,” said Netaneli.

She called Hagihon and was told that its system showed she had used that amount of water and she needed to bring someone to check there wasn’t a leak in her apartment. After an engineer came and could not find a leak, Hagihon requested she get a second opinion. After the second engineer couldn’t find a leak, she was asked to check the main pipeline of her apartment building where no leak would be found either. Then she was asked to send her water meter to Hagihon to be checked by them and was forced to pay NIS 120 after no issues were found with her meter.

After rounds of back and forth with the water company, Hagihon claimed that someone must be stealing water from Netaneli’s building.

Netaneli rejected the claim as ridiculous. “I live in Talbiyeh/Rehavia. The people who live with me in the building are probably in their 70s and we live in a wealthy neighborhood. This isn’t some poor neighborhood in Jerusalem where people steal water from each other. Who is going to steal water?”

Netaneli, who also heads her building’s maintenance committee, then realized that other residents in her building had encountered the same problem of having their water bills jump by 500%. She talked with residents of another two buildings in the area and realized they too were faced with the same issue.

One of the buildings in her area saw a 500% spike in the bills for their shared water usage. Their issue is that the building does not even have a shared tap. Regardless, they were thrown through the whole cycle of inspections and tests as Netaneli. “They are paying for all of that, spending time and money because no one will give the days off work [you] need to miss to deal with them.” In the end, Hagihon agreed to give the building a partial refund.

The attorney stressed that while that building was assertive and went through the whole process, many Jerusalemites have simply given up in the middle because they do not have the time to deal with the demands of the water company. “I said, ‘I’m going crazy from this. This is annoying me. I’m going to file a lawsuit in the name of my area.’”

Netaneli decided to post on Facebook about the lawsuit she was planning to file and was surprised to find that hundreds of other residents from all over the city were suffering from the same problem, with some experiencing up to a 1,000% increase over their usual bill. Baka, Ramat Beit Hakerem, Talbiyeh and Pisgat Ze’ev are just some of the neighborhoods, along with Mevaseret Zion, affected by the unexplained extreme water bills.

“When I don’t like Nike, I go the next day and buy something else. But this is water, it’s a basic necessity. I don’t have the ability to choose. I have to be connected to Hagihon and receive water from them. This is what is so enraging,” said Netaneli. “Where is the Water Authority? Where is the municipality?”

Netaneli stressed that Hagihon needs to take responsibility, take this issue seriously, figure out what is wrong and fix it. “It’s not logical that for three or four months someone stole water from all of Jerusalem. People from another country or Haifa came, connected pipes and stole water? Seriously?”

In an advertisement in the local Jerusalem website Mynet, Hagihon stated it was aware that many customers had received messages about irregularities in their water bills, claiming that the messages were sent according to directives from the Water Authority and that most of the irregularities were minor. The water company provided a list of reasons that could be behind the spikes in prices, although most of these reasons were found to be irrelevant in many of the cases, according to Netaneli.

Hagihon additionally claimed in the ad that the increases were not in any way connected to infrastructure work happening throughout the city, saying this could not affect amounts of the water bills of residents.