Woman wrongly charged for wastewater for 44 years wants $26K refund

Woman wrongly charged for wastewater for 44 years

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Zenobia Gary says the City of Richmond overbilled for 44 years, as she was wrongly charged a wastewater fee.

Her sewer line is not connected to Richmond’s solid waste system, and it never has been but she received monthly bills as if it was.

Like Gary, Richmond thought it was disposing of all the wastewater coming from her home. No one knew it was going into a septic tank. On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker made headway with the city for Zenobia after she says she couldn’t get anywhere and got answers to her questions about a hefty refund.

This occurrence is right up there with the odds of winning the lottery. Richmond services thousands through public utilities and Zenobia is one in 500,000 with this problem. She says she never smelled anything and had no idea she had a septic tank.

“Every now and then when it got real hot, we would get a foul odor and I’m like, what is that?” Gary said.

A plumber digging in Zenobia’s yard - looking for a blockage that caused a commode to back up - unearthed the septic tank that no one knew was receiving and holding sewage flowing from the home. This is where luck came in.

“You can say lucky or not lucky. To have this septic tank for 30 or 40 years without cleaning it, this surprised me really. This was full,” owner of Leo’s Plumbing, Elias Chaoul, said.

The city inherited the problem it says 50 years ago during the controversial 1970 annexation when Richmond took over part of Chesterfield. The septic tank was not documented or disclosed. Richmond assumed Gary’s house was connected to the city’s sewer system like all of her neighbors.

“My guess the realtor didn’t know. We were in the city. Who would think you weren’t hooked to city sewer?” Gary said.

Leo’s Plumbing installed an opening for cleaning that wasn’t there before. A second company pumped out the septic tank charging extra and noting that it had not been cleaned in decades.

Gary says she believes the city owes her.

“They owe me 44 years worth of sewage money. What I’ve paid out. It’s over $26,000,” Gary said.

Director of Public Utilities Calvin Farr said, “The amount she’s asking isn’t unreasonable. It’s a rare case.” He adds, “I will do all I can under my authority to make her whole.”

Gary says she waited for three weeks for answers before deciding to Call 12 for help. Director Farr declined to speak on camera but says this week DPU is working out the specifics of a refund.

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