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San Diego fails to notify a deaf woman and her deaf and blind husband about a water leak and a nearly $4,000 bill | San Diego Water Woes

The complaint comes days after San Diego top water official apologizes to residents about billing errors and lack of notification.

SAN DIEGO — Carmen and Juan Isais suffer from severe disabilities. Carmen and Juan are deaf, with Juan recently having lost his eyesight due to a rare disorder. Carmen is his caregiver because she can see.

When we met them at their home in the La Pressa area, we could only communicate with them through interpreters.

The Isais family are one of tens of thousands of San Diegans who had their water bills withheld by the city of San Diego for more than a year, from March 2022 to July 2023 without any notification from the city. The reason for the withheld bill, according to a letter obtained by CBS 8, "registered low usage...which halted the billing process."

In 2021, they had to repair a slab leak and pay a $3,000 water bill. Their church raised money for them to pay for the bill and the repair work. But then the bills stopped coming. Through an interpreter Carmen told us, “We paid the $3,000 bill and then we stopped getting bills. 4 months later, 8 months later, 1 year later we didn’t get a bill. And then we got a bunch of bills.’ In July, the Isais received a whopping bill of $3,778 without any notice.

The couple say they are unsure how they will pay the bill and are now looking for organizations that can help. Through an interpreter Juan says, “I’m on a limited income so Carmen called the water department again and again and again wondering where our bill was and all of a sudden they send us a high bill.”

The Isais’ story is one of many that CBS 8 has discovered since launching its investigations into the city's Public Utilities Department.

That investigation found that since 2018 the city has failed to send out millions of bills to customers throughout San Diego without any notification or explanation as to why those bills were under investigation. To compound the issue, when residents check their bills online, the city's website shows a zero balance, leading many to believe that they may have already paid or didn't need to.

And when the city does get around to finally sending a bill out, they come at once.

In late August, San Diego's Public Utilities Director Juan Guerreiro apologized to water customers for his department's failures. Guerreiro, as well as Mayor Todd Gloria, assured residents that fixes were on the way and residents would soon get notified if their bills were withheld.

But for residents such as Carmen and Juan Isais, the assurances aren't much of a help. They, like so many others, are still shouldered with the burden of having to pay as many as eight water bills all at once.

In an effort to help the Isais family, CBS 8 did find a state program that helps low-income residents pay their water bills.

The couple tells CBS 8 that they will apply for the service.

Meanwhile, in a statement, a city spokesperson told CBS 8 that it would work with the family and that while their last eight bills were held due to suspicion of low water usage, there have been other issues at the residence.

Read the statement:

"We understand CBS 8 is looking into the account of the Isais family. Our Customer Support team connected with the customer last week. The billing system initially held the invoice in March 2022 due to the water usage being lower than was the case historically. All invoices have now been sent. They let us know that they have discovered new leaks. They will send us their repair receipts and an explanation, and we’ll then review for a potential leak adjustment. We assured them that they can pay off any remaining balance over time with no penalty or interest.

Also, they had a slab leak in 2021 for which they received a leak adjustment in December 2021.

As Public Utilities Department Director Juan Guerreiro shared with Shannon Handy this week, we are working diligently to address our billing challenges. We will continue to work with the Isais family to ensure their concerns are addressed."

At CBS 8, we are always Working for You and our community. This is a station promise that we will go the extra mile to solve a problem our audience can’t solve themselves. We want to hear your ideas on how we can cover and help our community. If you have a story idea, please email us at workingforyou@cbs8.com.

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