Association Finds Innovative Way to Save Money on Water Bill

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Cape Concord Homeowners Ass’n. v. City of Escondido
7 Cal. App. 5th 180

By David Kline, Esq.

Cape Concord Homeowners Association found an interesting way to save a lot of money. In 2006, the City of Escondido began charging the association sewer service fees based on the quantity of water used, rather than a flat rate.  The problem was that an “overwhelmingly vast majority” of the water used by the association was for irrigation that was not connected to any sewer.

In 2012, at the association’s request, the City installed separate water meters for the pool and pool house, which were connected to the sewer.  This separated the meters that provided irrigation water from those that served bathrooms and showers connected to the sewer.  The City properly stopped charging sewer fees for the irrigation water.  This saved the association a ton of money.  In 2013, the association sued the City for a refund of the estimated $175,176.08 in sewer fees that it paid between 2006 and 2012 for which the City provided no sewer services.  The association lost at the trial level and appealed that decision.

The Court of Appeal cited Government Code section 53082, which requires an agency to refund money collected for a sewer use fee “for which no service has been provided” with respect to “premises…not connected to the sewer system.”  Even though only a tiny percentage of the water that flowed through the meters between 2006 and 2012 was connected to the sewer and used for the pool and pool house, the Court concluded that the pool and pool house were part of the “premises” served by those meters.  Therefore, the association was not entitled to a refund.

Even though the association was unable to recover the money it overpaid between 2006 and 2012, by asking the City to install separate meters for “premises…not connected to the sewer system,” the association probably saved tens of thousands of dollars per year in unnecessary sewer service fees.

Is your association billed for sewer services based on the amount of water it uses?
Are the meters that service irrigation lines separate from those that service facilities connected to the sewer?
  If not, consider asking for separate meters for irrigation lines.  If so, check your water bill to make sure that your association is not being charged for sewer services for those irrigation lines.