- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Faulty radio-controlled water meters multiplied some customers’ bills by as much as six times, leading the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to cut off service or threaten to do so, according to a lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends the authority knows there are problems with the meters, but that customer complaints are not being dealt with fairly or promptly.

Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin declined to comment on the suit, which was first reported Tuesday by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review but filed last week by Susan Newman. The Millvale woman is identified only as a property owner served by the authority.

The water meter interface units, or MIUs, “are radio controlled and purportedly read the exact amount of water used by a customer.” Their purpose is to eliminate bills based on water usage estimates determined by a customer’s past use, the lawsuit said.

“Instead, these MIU systems have catastrophically failed and customers have received grossly inaccurate and at times outrageously high bills,” the lawsuit said. One customer was billed for using 132,000 gallons in one month on a vacant property, for example.

An authority news release in February says some of 83,000 customers who received the new meters in September 2013 have had problems, which the authority expects to fix by July. Rubin declined to comment on those ongoing efforts, citing the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, attorneys’ fees and a court order ending the use of the new meters, among other remedies.

It also names the city of Pittsburgh, Veolia Water North America -which provides the water that is billed for along with the sewage service provided by the authority - and Jordan Tax Service, which administers the authority’s billing. But the lawsuit lays the blame for the billing problems squarely with the authority’s decision to use the radio-controlled meters and its allegedly draconian methods to collect from overbilled customers.

“Even more shocking, PWSA is acutely aware that the billings are wrong but do not hesitate for a moment to issue ‘shut off’ notices and then arbitrarily turn off water service,” the lawsuit states. “Customer complaints are ignored and in some instances water bills have increased almost 600 percent.”

Newman’s attorney, John Corcoran, said she’s a landlord who owns a handful of properties and, though she’s been overbilled by more than $500, her situation is less serious than other prospective plaintiffs.

“The PWSA is telling people, if you get this outrageous water bill and you don’t pay it, they’ll shut your water off,” Corcoran said.

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