City of Houston

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposes changes that could address high water bill issues

Residents complained at numerous council meetings, trying to get help with bills costing some customers thousands of dollars.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced changes to address high water bills that residents have received.
Ashley Brown/Houston Public Media
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced changes to address high water bills that residents have received.

Residents who have received high water bills may soon get some relief pending a vote from Houston City Council on Wednesday. Mayor Sylvester Turner is proposing changes to update the city's ordinance that could address the issue.

Turner outlined on Monday, nine ordinances that could relieve the stress that's been burdening customers for almost a year now. Residents complained at numerous council meetings, trying to get help with bills costing some customers thousands of dollars. City officials said under the current ordinance, Houston Public Works is restricted from how much help they can provide to customers.

"I’ve heard the community and their frustrations with high water bills and I know that getting an unexpectedly high water bill is frustrating," said Turner. "Today we have potential solutions to share with you and it starts with changes to the specific ordinances."

Some changes include going away with the number of times residents can seek help for multiple water leaks, which is currently capped at two times per year, giving customers a bigger incentive if they repair their private leaks, increasing the amount of credit customers get back from excess wastewater charges, and a 50 cent discount for anyone who enrolls in electronic billing.

"Any customer that receives a bill higher than they deserve that customer needs to get relief from the city, we are in the customer service business," said Turner. "With these changes, I feel confident that the overwhelming percentage of complaints that we receive will be addressed."

Houston Public Works said one issue that's contributing to the inflation of water bills is the failed water meters. Houston sends out more than 500,000 water bills a month. Since 2019, officials said HPW has been manually reading 40,000 water meters, estimating between 6,000 – 7,000 accounts a month. That number has since increased to more than 125,000 failed meters, and an estimate of about 40,000 water bills a month.

"That’s why we’re in the position that we’re in and the situation that you’re seeing," said Director of Houston Public Works, Carol Haddock. "It is definitely this change that the mayor has not only proposed, but the mayor has very much prodded us to move these forward and get these to you today will allow us to address those in a much more timely manner and work with our customer service.”

Another one of the proposals was submitted previously as a joint item on the city council's agenda by city council members Amy Peck, Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and Mary Nan Huffman, to not bill residential customers no more than three months back. The proposal came after voters approved Proposition A, allowing three council members to put items on the agenda.

Turner said the city had been working for months on the idea before council members brought the proposal, but he did welcome their input.

"Even with the proposal that’s been put forth by city council members, that practice has already taken place," he said. "It just had not been placed in the ordinance and that’s what we’re doing now."

If the changes pass, they will go into effect immediately. Customers could see adjustments as early as their next billing cycle according to Director Haddock. Here is the full list of the proposed changes.

  1. Will remove the twice-a-year allowance to fix water leaks and will allow customers to seek relief if there are additional leaks.
  2. Incentive citizens to fix their water leaks and get a 100% adjustment on their water bills if a leak is repaired within 30 days, 75% for a repair within 60 days and 50% after 60 days.
  3. Customers can get 100% credit back on excess wastewater charges.
  4. To expand eligibility, the leak balance will be reduced from $2,000 to $1,000 and from $250 to $100 for elderly customers.
  5. The customer's responsibility for an unusually large bill will be lowered from 150% to 125% of the monthly average water usage.
  6. Economic Change Adjustments will be brought to any billed amount in excuse of two times an average monthly bill; an amount may be reduced by up to $10,000 for one occurrence and will not exceed two billing cycles.
  7. Customers can have their meter locked at a one-time fee of $150, once the account is locked all base charges will be removed from the account.
  8. Customers will get a 50-cent discount for an electronic bill.
  9. Codify Public Works' practice of not charging customers for more than three months of back pay.