Detroit contractor hit with staggering water bills for vacant homes

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Chuck Brooks owns rental properties in Detroit and asked the city to turn on the water in some vacant homes, so he could work on them.
But nothing could prepare him for the staggering bills that followed.

FOX 2: "So in March they said you used 79,000 gallons?"

"I almost passed out at the water department," Brooks said. "I literally told them you all are going to have to get the EMS because I can't take this."

Brooks is a licensed contractor who is rehabbing a lot of homes on the city's east side. FOX 2 introduced you to him before, he's the guy who's turned two blocks on the east side into his family compound and pledged to turn other neighborhoods around as well.

But two of the homes he's rehabbing could drain his finances instead.

"Fifty-one thousand gallons (and a $561 bill) that's for one month," he said, holding the bill.

Brooks says that's the water bill for a home on Mapleridge. It is vacant and the sink is covered in cobwebs - but the water bill is sky high.

Then there's his home on Spring Gardens.

"I know I’m not using that kind of water," Brooks said. "I wouldn't know where to put 79,000 gallons of water at."

"We are not using this amount of water. I mean there's no way I could actually do it. This is enough to power a whole neighborhood."

The city sent him a letter saying the meter is working properly and he might have a leak - or a running toilet - he says he doesn't.

"We don't have any leaking pipes," he said. "The toilets are not running, there's no water leaking out here. The spigots are turned off, it's secured. There is an alarm on here - you can't get in here. I'm devastated by this."

On the bills some days show no usage while on another - 17,000 gallons - in one day. Keep in mind the average family of two uses about 4,000 gallons per month.

Nobody even lives at either of these homes with Brooks working on them.

"I can't tell you how the water is being used but there is water being used at the property throughout the day," said Marc-Antonie Cooper, Detroit Water and Sewerage.

Cooper heads customer service at Detroit Water and Sewerage. He says they installed new meters at the homes and says Brooks can get on a payment plan.

"The meter is working fine, the reads are accurate," Cooper said. "He's used this type of water for the last three months."

But that's where Brooks says the water department is just plain wrong.

"We are doing several properties in this neighborhood but if you get stuff like this," Brooks said. "It's going to run anybody out of town. This is crazy.

"I think it's morally wrong and I think if you're going to do people like this, nobody will ever rebuild in the city of Detroit."