Detroit woman forced to pay $5k water bill from previous tenant due to wild Michigan law

A Detroit woman has been saddled with a $5,200 water bill due to a Michigan law that holds new residents responsible for the unpaid water bills of previous occupants.

Nicole Geissinger was set to begin her fellowship at the Detroit Medical Center when she got the bill from the city after recently moving into her new home.

The 32-year-old doctor called the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and was told that the bill wasn’t a mistake.

DWSD said that the unpaid bills of the previous homeowner were now hers to take care of, adding that if she didn’t pay, there would be a late fee of $250 a month.

Dealing with student debt, Dr Geissinger was unable to pay for it without emptying her savings.

“I just moved in,” she told the Detriot Metro Times. “How can I be culpable for it?”

Michigan state law indicates that homeowners are expected to pay any delinquent water bills from the previous owner of the home, DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh told the paper.

“This is a dispute between the buyer and the previous owner,” he said.

But according to the Metro Times, the previous owner paid the amounts that she was billed for, as invoices and other transactions reveal.

The previous owner’s water meter hadn’t been sending any usage information to the city, meaning that the bill had simply been a service fee with the same amount being charged for each billing period regardless of how much water was used.

“Once a real estate closing read was requested, we were able to get access to the meter thanks to the new owner and produce an updated bill reflecting the volume usage at the property based on the meter reading,” Mr Peckinpaugh told the paper. “While the meter is DWSD property, it was up to the previous homeowner/occupant to give us access to inspect the meter and update the billing.”

The spokesperson told the Metro Times that the department attempted to reach the previous residents concerning the water meter.

“We reached out to the original owner on several occasions about a meter inspection and updating the account,” Mr Peckinpaugh said. “We had a very specific notice on the front of the bill.”

The notice stated that “the water usage history graph is not available for your account due to no water meter or no water consumption in the last 13 months”.

According to the city of Detroit, the previous owner never reached out to the department.

Dr Geissinger argues that it’s unjust that she’s responsible for the bill as she didn’t use the water and couldn’t have known that a $5,200 water bill would come with the house.

If a house has an unpaid water bill, that’s usually shown on the home’s title, making any possible buyer aware of the prospective debt.

But in this instance, DWSD didn’t know what the balance was, meaning that when the real estate agent checked the title, there was no balance to be seen.

“I am early, early in my career. I’m a new homeowner,” Dr Geissinger told the Metro Times. “But I’m not in a position where I can’t pay the bill. There will be a lot of late fees, and it will hurt [my] credit rating. I’m stuck with a more than $5,000 water bill.”