If thieves steal the piping to your water supply you have to pay the price.
That’s what Pinelands tour guide Walter Boesch learned to his great cost – R24 074.90 – to be exact.
The nature of his job means he’s away from home often and twice last year he was a victim of vandalism and theft.
“The first time was between July 28 and August 6, when my girlfriend noticed in the afternoon that thieves had stolen a garden shower and the copper piping by ripping it out of the ground. Then they took the copper and brass pipes from an outside geyser at the back of my house, between August 27 and 28.
“At 12.45am when the damage was discovered, I immediately contacted my plumber to stop the leaks and went to Pinelands police to report the incidents and lay a charge of theft, providing affidavits and plumber’s reports to testify what happened at my home,” said Mr Boesch, who sent photographic evidence and correspondence to the City of Cape disputing the charges for the leaking water.
“I asked our councillor, Bryan Watkyns, how to report the incidents to the municipality as I do not think I should be accountable for the water loss as I am the victim here. Since these unfortunate events I have paid thousands of rands on water losses, spent more on plumber’s bills and on improving security around my walled property (the thieves managed to scale a 1.8-metre high wall) and put in more security lights, another alarm and security gate to block access to the geyser alley.
“The costs are not the problem, but it is the fact that the City is holding me to ransom for the water bill as a result of the thefts. Firstly, they imposed an exploitative water charge of R217 765.24 and a sewerage charge of R5 910.74 for the loss in the respective period. I did not get an explanation about how the municipality calculated these amounts although it is related to the excessively high water tariffs which were imposed during the drought last year,” Mr Boesch said.
“I struggle to understand how such thin copper pipes can cause such dramatic water spillage between the time the thefts took place and my plumber stopped the leaks.
“With the help of LegalWise I have been dealing with the City ombudsman and the accounts department and as a result they applied a rebate which left me with a whopping balance of R24 074.90.
“After the thefts I decided to pay the average they charged for rates, including water and sewerage which I considered fair. A month before and after the thefts I was billed R3 413.81 and R2 989.24 respectively, so I paid R3 201.53.
“At this stage my spreadsheet showed I didn’t owe anything, except they have to refund me R594.14 in interest I paid in error. But they are still claiming water arrears of R24 000 which is when I sent a complaint to the ombud. After taking a pathetically long time to respond it was referred back to accounts. The ombud probably didn’t read any of the affidavits and correspondence I sent. Then the municipality threatened to disconnect my water; luckily I was home when the team arrived and managed to persuade them there was an appeal pending,” Mr Boesch said.
At the time he had a nine-week-old daughter and two tenants at his house and if the City cut the water they could have harmed the baby and forced the tenants to move out.
Mr Boesch said in the 20 years he has owned his property he has paid his municipal bills every time and on time and doesn’t think he should be accountable for events beyond his control.
“The City is blackmailing me through their business administrators to recover the money and they will list me with the credit bureaus. I don’t use credit so it won’t get them anywhere. They said they would recommend that the City get a judgment against me. I hope they do then I can tell the judge my sorry story. The City management is inaccessible to the ordinary ratepayers who have to deal with call centre agents,” said Mr Boesch.
“I pay taxes for a functioning police service, which did not protect me. I have become a victim of crime with all concomitant issues that go along with it: time, stress, not to mention the financial aspect.”
Acting mayoral committee member for water and waste, JP Smith, said their records reflect the incidents reported by the customer.
“Water consumption showed a marked spike from July 2018 to September 2018 because the pipes were stolen and the water was allowed to run to waste,” Mr Smith said. “Although this is an unfortunate incident, we cannot shoulder the cost of this lost water. According to the relevant legislation, property owners are responsible for the cost of water lost through leaks/breaks on their property’s plumbing.
“Given that this incident occurred during Level 6 water tariffs, where the cost of water increased steeply to encourage saving during the drought, the incident had an extreme impact on Mr Boesch’s bill. We have reduced the bill substantially but the balance remains payable. Mr Boesch can make a payment arrangement and we will suspend any action, unless he defaults.”
Mr Smith suggested that to minimise the risks of this happening, residents should turn the water off at the stopcock before they go on holiday.