With bills in the thousands, Chicago families want answers from the city


CHICAGO — Last month, WGN Investigates reported how residents of a North Side condo building were battling City Hall over a sharp increase in their water bill.

Now, we’ve learned they’re not alone.

The Matlock family has owned a mixed-use property on West Fulton for more than 50 years. For decades, they ran a small store on the building’s first floor, selling candy to neighborhood children. The family shut the store down in late 2019. Months later, the property was damaged in a fire.

“We had the building secured but the door was open when the police and fire department showed up,” Janice Matlock-Wilson said. “So, somebody had probably broke in.”

The fire left the family with no choice but to sell. They had a buyer lined up, but the deal collapsed when they discovered they owed the city more than $16,000 worth of water.

The high bill was linked, in part, to a sudden spike in usage in the now-vacant property, according to Matlock-Wilson.

“I was like, no way, nobody’s in this building,” she said. 

WGN Investigates had previously reported how a North Side condo building saw their water bill jump from a monthly average of up to $800, to more than $10,000. In that case, the city told them the spike was likely caused by a leak. But no leaks were found, and no repairs were made. The next month, their bill dropped to normal levels.

In most cases, leaks don’t repair themselves, so the building’s residents suspect it was a meter malfunction.

But the city told them to pay up anyway.

“We’re stuck because we can never get in touch with anyone that’s able to engage in a constructive conversation,” Kate Saeva, who owns a condo in the building, said.

The Matlock family said the same is true for them. Outrageously high usage one month, and the next month back to normal. The city has told them to pay up, too.

“It’s absolutely frustrating and truthfully ridiculous,” Emily Henke said. “Especially hearing that this has gone on in other buildings. There has to be some sort of recourse.”

Henke contacted WGN Investigates after the water bill at her North Side condo building jumped thousands of dollars in a single month.

No leaks were found and the next month it returned to normal levels. They’re also on the hook for the amount.

WGN Investigates requested an interview with city water officials to discuss why the increases are happening. But that request was denied.

“Both the Department of Water Management and the Department of Finance work directly with customers when they report issues with their water service and/or billing,” a city spokeswoman responded in an email.

“As far as the city and the mayor – they keep giving me the runaround,” Matlock-Wilson said. “They really need to take care of this, so it [doesn’t] happen to…someone else.”

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