Nine ordinance revisions for water bill relief were passed by members of the Houston City Council during a Dec. 13 meeting after a vote on the changes was postponed Dec. 6.

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Under the new changes, residents can request their bills be examined over the last 24 months if they feel they have been overcharged and over the last three months if they feel they have been undercharged, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. The water bill relief ordinance changes will go into effect immediately, he said.

“Very rarely at council do we see items where we're able to go back to remedy a situation,” council member Abbie Kamin said. “It's not only the right thing to do, but it's about the integrity of this and serving the people of Houston.”

Other changes to the ordinance will include:
  • Removing the two-times-per-year allowance for leak adjustments and allowing customers additional relief should multiple leaks occur in one year more than twice
  • Incentivizing citizens by offering 100% relief for customers repairing a water leak within 30 days after a leak began, 75% for repairs within 60 days and 50% after 60 days
  • Reducing the leak balance remaining amount from $2,000 to $1,000 for senior citizens and $250 to $100 for low-income households
  • Giving 100% credit on excess wastewater charges
  • Lowering the customer responsibility percentage from 150% to 125% of the monthly average water usage
  • Providing a 50-cent discount for each bill for paperless customers
  • Not backbilling greater than three months for residential customers
  • Offering a customer an option to have a meter locked for a one-time fee
Several changes have also been passed related to the Exceptional Circumstances Adjustment, which deals with excessively high water bills that do not fall into any other category tracked by the city:
  • Changing any billed amount in excess of fives times the average monthly bill to two times the average monthly bill
  • Changing the cost for a one-time occurrence from $4,000 to up to $10,000
  • Changing the language from a two-month timeframe to two billing cycles
Other viewpoints

The vote on the ordinance changes was delayed from Dec. 6 after council member Michael Kubosh tagged the agenda item. Kubosh said Dec. 13 he never opposed the item, but he hopes to see the water bill issue reporting system improved.

“We need to do something about making it more customer-friendly when people call about their water bill, and that's been an issue that, for most of us that have served over the years here in council ... there's such a difficulty in trying to report these things,” Kubosh said.

Council member Martha Castex-Tatum expressed a desire for city officials to look into how faulty water meter parts may be impacting water bill issues.

“I still feel like the genesis of a lot of [these] water bill issues may lie in the parts of the water meters, and I know that we had a shortage of chips during COVID,” she said. “I just still feel like we need to investigate if we have any recourse with the vendors that may have added to the complexity of our water bill issues in the city of Houston.”