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Who Owes What for Water?

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Robin Fields covers consumer issues for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7810 and at robin.fields@latimes.com

State Sen. Joseph Dunn (D-Garden Grove) tried to make like a bridge over troubled water--or, more properly, troubled water bills--earlier this month, moderating a meeting between tenants and their landlord at Sage Park Apartments in Anaheim.

Sage Park tenants are peeved that they are now charged for water, sewer and trash on top of their rents, saying the bills add as much as $100 to their monthly expenses.

Separate utility billing has become increasingly common in Orange County and nationwide as landlords have grappled with the higher cost of water. But because few older apartments have submeters for each unit, bills are typically based on abstract formulas rather than tenants’ actual usage. Hundreds of tenants have griped to the California Public Utilities Commission that the bills are unfair.

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Sage Park tenants pressed their landlord for proof that they were being billed the right amounts and that they were not being charged for water used in common areas. The landlord agreed to gather more accurate data and will consider rejiggering how units with clothes washers are billed.

“If we’re going to be billed, we want to be billed correctly and fairly,” said Ione Bice-Roos, who started a letter-writing campaign about the utility fees.

The commission will hold a public workshop to discuss the utility billing trend from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center, Rooms 2 and 3.

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