Cold response to Lakeside water meters

Mez Wallach residents are unhappy about water meters being fitted to their units without their consent.

Residents of Communicare’s Mez Wallach in Lakeside say they will seek an interim interdict to stop more pre-paid water meters being installed in the complex.

Spokesman for the residents, Watney Adams, said he had consulted with a lawyer on behalf of the residents last week.

Residents claim they weren’t consulted about the meters although some acknowledge getting a notice from Communicare in October saying the devices would start going in from November 12.

Resident say their water was previously included in their monthly rent and as pensioners, they can’t afford the extra cost for water.

Resident Mortimer Fernandes said he had never used water irresponsibly during his 16 years at the block. He checks the reading on the new meter before going to bed. “It uses one to two litres of water during the night while we are asleep and up to eight litres a week,” he said.

During the day, the meter recorded 59 litres of water used without him doing the washing or taking a shower, and toilet flushing used nine litres, he said, calling the meters “defective”.

He complained that residents had not been told how to use the new meters.

Fred Cerff said he had been told his meter would be installed with 1 350 litres, 350 for the plumber to test the device and a 1000 litres remaining, but when he activated it there was only 859 litres left.

He too claims the meters are defective.

A new resident, Steven Thirumalan-Sakrambhani, said modern water meters were not compatible with old buildings like Mez Wallach which still had three-inch copper pipes with a high pressure water system. And there had been no mention of the new meters when he had signed his contract four months ago, he said.

“What is the purpose if the new meters? They say the water meter is to control abuse, but there is no abuse. I refuse to get one.”

Residents, like Helen Gabriel, who share bathrooms with neighbouring units face another dilemma. She said a pre-paid metre had not been fitted yet and Communicare could not tell her how the water bill would be split.

“I am very concerned about rising water costs,” she said.

Some of the meters were leaking when the Echo visited the building last week.

Communicare CEO Anthea Houston said the pre-paid meters would give tenants better control over their individual water use.

While Communicare had not charged residents separately for water in the past, its price had sky-rocketed due to the drought and many residents used more water than the City’s approved daily allowance, she said.

Letters about the meters had gone out with residents’ October statements and there had been follow-up letters at the beginning of November, along with an SMS, she said.

“Tenants only made contact on the day of the installations. We set up an informal meeting the next day to discuss concerns and provide more information about the meters.

“Many of the residents who we had spoken to said they were happy with the installations and said they had no further concerns,” she said.

The cause of the leaks, she said, had been found and contractors would be asked to fix it,”

No resident had reported receiving less than the 1000 extra litres loaded onto the unit and in cases where tenants had refused or delayed to sign for the handover of the unit, that might result in some of those additional litres being used as part of their daily consumption.

Residents sharing a bathroom would have a device that allowed them to see and track their water usage.

“They will have to cooperate with each other in doing this, as they already do in sharing the bathroom,” she said.

Communicare had asked the City to reduce the cost of water for residents earning under
R4 000 or living in a unit valued at less than R400 000.

“The City agreed that Communicare can apply for 6 000 litres of free water for those tenants and we are in the process of applying for those who qualify,” she said, adding that Communicare could no longer absorb the costs of water as it had done in the past.

“We understand that some residents are concerned about the added costs to their already tight budgets and we are doing all we can to contain the cost for pensioners and those earning less than R4000,” she said.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, said the City backed steps by complex owners to monitor water use but it was up to the managing agent or body corporate to decide how water costs were recovered.

But metering and proper record keeping was essential for managing water conservation.

“During the drought, it was very difficult to establish whether residents of flats and complexes without pre-paid meters were staying within their 50-litre allocation or not and the installation of pre-paid meters at each unit could have allowed residents of apartment complexes to pay according to what they actually use, rather than subsidising other people who possibly used more water.

The City did not indicate whether it will take any punitive measure against complex owners who do not install pre-paid meters.