S&WB customers weighing legal action over bill increases

Sewerage and Water Board issues have been going on so long, some are wondering if it's time to get a lawyer. Eyewitness News asked a law professor about what you can do.

NEW ORLEANS -- Some Sewerage & Water Board customers have had issues with the utility for so long, they're wondering if it's time to get a lawyer. 

Lynette Smith says she has been waiting for crews from the Board to fix the leak in front of her yard near Mazant Street for a month-and-a-half. She says that leak gave her a $407 water bill.

Smith says she's been told she will not have to pay it all, but she's afraid she'll still have to pay extra.

"Well, I guess I will have to pay it and then get me a lawyer," Smith said.

The board confirmed back in September that 5,000 customers were overbilled.  The S&WB has been working to fix those accounts, but now some question if you can get your money back for overpaying.

"Typically you're going through the administrative hearing process first on a kind of individual dispute," Davida Finger a professor at Loyola University's College of Law said.

She is currently working on a lawsuit on behalf of a group seeking the Board to notify customers of potential flood issues.  But getting one's money back is different.  She says it's possible to file a claim but...

"The court system shouldn't be overloaded with disputes that could be taken care of if the agency could set up a system of policies and procedures that had accuracy, accountability and oversight," Finger explained.

Without a lawyer, customers have to go through the Board's hearing process.  

"To me that was outrageous," Cleopatra Jenkins said.

Jenkins is another customer at a loss after getting her bill.  She tells us after not receiving one for several months, she got an $800 bill.  That number has since increased.

"And they sent me the bill and it's $1200," Jenkins said.

But she says she didn't spend that much, nor can she afford to pay it.  To be fair, the board has not been able to research her claims.  

"What is it like in St. Bernard?  $60 bucks a month," Jenkins asked Eyewitness News.

Jenkins says by contrast since moving to St. Bernard Parish after last August, bills are consistent.

"The way I look at it is if I sued the City it would take me years to get my money," Jenkins said.

© 2018 WWL-TV


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