Friday, June 19, 2009

Utilities Shut Off By Accident...Collateral Damage In The Foreclosure Crisis?

Photo By John Hoff 

This happened a couple days ago: a good citizen turned on the water in his kitchen to have a spot o' tea and (good heavens!) there was no water when he turned on the tap. After making sure this wasn't an issue with his own plumbing, the citizen determined the water had been shut off from the street.

This caused panic and alarm in the good citizen. What on earth was wrong that the city would shut off his water? He owed slightly under $40 on his entire utility bill, and it wasn't even overdue. Meanwhile, he knew of instances where actual drug houses had racked up city utility bills in excess of $1,000 before shut off was even CONTEMPLATED, and even THEN some kind of WARNING took place, first.

So the citizen did what a good citizen should do...

He called 311. The 311 operator tried to transfer him to the part of the city which deals with utilities, but nobody was picking up. The good citizen had a CHILD in his house and, gee, the court ordered visitation specifically said the child would not reside in a house without utilities. (Why was THAT in the visitation order? You don't want to know) So the citizen called 311 again, and explained how the other part of the city was not picking up, and could something PLEASE be done to resolve this problem, ASAP? AND WHAT ON EARTH HAD HE DONE OR NOT DONE TO CAUSE WATER TO BE SHUT OFF?

The 311 operator consulted computer screens and an alphatical list of recent water shut offs. According to the city, water had NOT been cut at the good citizen's house. But it had been, um, shut off at a property very near by.

"How near by?" the citizen asked.

The operator couldn't say, except, um, VERY nearby. The citizen pictured his two next-door neighbors. Yeah, not hard to figure out which one it was, probably. Trouble and woe, all the time.

And you have to wonder at moments like there some kind of foreclosure pending? In North Minneapolis, utility shut offs tend to be a harbinger of a foreclosure situation.

"Collateral damage," the citizen thought. The city was going after somebody else's utilities but got HIS water instead. You'd think they'd be more careful. Shutting off the water at a house isn't as difficult as, say, dropping a 500 pound bomb on a munitions factory instead of a school. But, hey, the city has A LOT OF HOUSES where utilities haven't been paid. One can understand how turning the crank becomes all-too-routine.

The 311 operator promised the city would rectify this situation soon. She wouldn't define "soon," though.

But it was, in fact, fixed within a few hours. No harm done. Headache-inducing tension turns to big laughs ha ha ha.

The moral of the story: if the city shuts your water off by accident or even on purpose, call 311. They have a list, in alphabetical order, of houses where the water was recently shut off. They can help you get the water shut back on, and relatively quickly.

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