WEST FARGO — Veeshan Rayamajhee has lived in his rented West Fargo twin home for just over a year, largely without surprises. But he was stunned this summer when he looked at his utility bill for the month of June.
It was for $541.
A $472 water use charge made up the lion's share of the bill.
For the previous six months or so, the home's entire monthly utility bill ranged between $47.75 and $58.75, for an average of about $56. That meant Rayamajhee's June bill was about 860% higher than his average bill.
His water use charges early this year were $7 to $14 per month, when the household was using 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water each month.
In June, according to city billing information, Rayamajhee's household used at least 58,000 gallons of water.
Rayamajhee reached out to Meridian Property Management, which manages the property, to question the bill and request an adjustment. He explained his situation in a string of emails between himself and Tim How, general manager of Meridian.
Rayamahjee stated he understood his lease required him to pay for water use, including water used by an automatic lawn sprinkler system that Meridian controls and forbids tenants from turning off, or adjusting in any way.
How initially told Rayamajhee that the sprinkler system would not be turned off, but added that a maintenance team would do an assessment of the sprinkler system. How also told Rayamahjee that water bills will be higher in the summer due to sprinklers running, similar to the way heating bills are higher in the winter.
Rayamahjee replied that his June water bill was more than 42% of the cost of the rent for the townhome, adding: "An average household cannot sacrifice grocery expenses to have a lush lawn ... please consider this my formal request to change the sprinkler system to a more realistic, reasonable schedule that is affordable."
In an email reply, How told Rayamahjee that he agreed the water bill seemed high and he stressed that the sprinkler system would be checked out for any problems.
He also noted, however, that the hot and dry conditions this summer would require more watering than normal.
"Again, I understand your point of view," How said in his email to Rayamahjee, adding: "Step one is to have the system assessed."
According to Rayamahjee, shortly after he raised the issue of his water bill Meridian agreed to temporarily shut off the sprinklers. But Rayamahjee said he had received no assurances that a more permanent solution would be forthcoming.
"A concerning thing for me is there is no assurance by the management that this isn't going to happen again, because I cannot control the (sprinkler) system. I am not allowed to mess with it."
West Fargo, which gets its water supply from the city of Fargo, charges residents $7 per 1,000 gallons of water used.
Brian Matzke, operations manager for the city, said normal water use for the city during the summer totals about 3.5 million gallons a day. With a dry summer like the current one and given factors like increased use of sprinklers, the city's total water use can be closer to 5 million gallons a day, he added.
Matzke said water bills of $500 or more for a residential home do happen, adding that such situations tend to be ones where someone is watering a new lawn and isn't concerned about the cost.
How said on Friday, July 9, that workers went to Rayamajhee's home on July 2, the day Rayamahjee reached out to the company with concerns about the water bill, and determined the water meter was running even though it did not appear the sprinkler was operating.
How said Meridian was taking steps to determine what may be happening with the system underground to establish whether a leak or some other problem existed. How added that he believed the issue would be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
Later Friday, How said he had received an update from staff who said a fractured line had been detected underground, which was causing a leak. He said the matter was expected to be corrected soon.
"I'll touch base with the resident and let them know that we'll get it fixed," How said, adding, "And then we'll look at resolving that water bill."
Rayamajhee was informed of the latest developments regarding his lawn's sprinkler system and the improved likelihood of his water bill problem evaporating, late Friday afternoon.
"That’s great news," he said.
For information about tenant rights and responsibilities, visit the North Dakota Attorney General's Office website.