Published on July 21st, 2016 |4
Buckhead high-rise condo avoided paying for city water, sewer a decade or more
“It could be anywhere from $900,000 to $1.8 million that we owe,” condo owner Chuck Walker told CBS46. Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management told CBS46 they share the responsibility for the error and will not be back billing the condo association.
Walker loves where he lives, but hates the recent issue involving questionable billing involving his homeowners association at the Phoenix condos on Peachtree Road across from The Peach shopping center in Buckhead.
“I’m assuming that there’s enough money in the fund to cover any expense we have from past due water bills,” Walker told the television station for its copyrighted story.
Former Atlanta school superintendent Errol Davis is a member of the homeowners association. He said the condos were being over charged for water and under charged for sewer usage for nearly a decade. (To read the CBS46 news report, click here.)
“We have not been assessed any arrearages,” Davis told CBS46. “And that’s part of our understanding going forward, so I do not anticipate that we will be paying anything going forward.”
CBS46 questioned Davis to find out if any of the excess money collected by the HOA would be returned to condo owners. “Uh, no it will not for a number of reasons. First of course is that the reserves of the HOA are owned by the unit owners,” Davis explained.
Meanwhile, Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher found the homeowners’ association knew it wasn’t being billed for at least 12 years.
“It’s shocking to me. If everyone knew this story, it would cause outrage to everyone,” Phoenix condo owner Jack Richardson told WSB’s Belcher. Richardson moved into the building in 2001, just as it opened.
Richardson became aware of the billing problem from a homeowners’ association audit that stated: “As of December 31, 2003, the association had not received a bill for a meter that services
common areas…This has been a problem from the beginning.”
Richardson told Belcher that he was told the homeowners’ association would pay the bill.
In early 2015, 11 years after that audit revealed the billing problem, other residents began to ask questions, WSB reported. One email to fellow residents stated: “it’s very unfortunate that the board…made the extremely questionable decision more than a decade ago not to discover why the association was being grossly under-billed.”
Another emailed: “Surely the directors did not believe the ‘free’ services would last forever.”
WSB reported that another resident told the TV station that HOA board member Davis had said, “The board did not feel that there was an ethical or legal obligation to attempt to pay….unless the city sent a bill.”
“I believe over 15 years we owe approximately $1 million without penalties and interest, just on the bill alone,” Belcher was told by Richardson, who is a financial adviser.
Atlanta Watershed Management spokeswoman Lillian Govus told Belcher, “It’s a significant amount of money.” The city provided billing records dating back to 2001. Govus told Belcher the Phoenix paid only a few water bills since then and has not paid any sewer bills. She added that the water bills Phoenix did pay were about 95 percent too low.
WSB’s Belcher reported, “After members from the HOA board approached the city last fall, the city found meter and billing problems at the condo location that stretched back perhaps as far as 2001.” As of October 2015, the HOA started paying both sewer and water bills.
“Right now, the city has no intent to back-bill this property, because part of it was our responsibility,” Govus told Belcher.
“I can’t believe the lengths that the board went to to hide this for so long,” Richardson said.
“This should have been resolved 15 years ago and could have, had the board, you know, just made a five-minute call to the city water and sewer department.”
Davis told Belcher the billing issue was the result of turnover on the HOA board at the Phoenix on Peachtree, where condo prices today range from $400,000 to more than $1 million.
(To read WSB-TV’s full report, click here.)