Without knowing it, a Scarborough man may have been flushing thousands of dollars down the toilet.
When Vipin Sehgal received his water bill at the end of February, he was shocked to see he owed the City of Toronto over $2,500.
His bill showed that starting in mid-January, his water usage started climbing before finally peaking on Feb. 26 and then dropping down to a somewhat reasonable consumption level.
The total usage for that massive bill was 1,572 cubic metres or almost 1.5 million litres of water over five months — enough to fill five average-sized swimming pools.
Seghal says his bill is usually around $300 and averages around 100 cubic metres.
Immediately, Seghal realized something was wrong as he could not recall any changes to his family’s water consumption over that time period.
He contacted Toronto Water, who sent a plumber out to investigate and discovered a small leak in the toilet. The city concluded the leaky toilet was to blame for the spike in water consumption.
However, the plumber didn’t come to his home until March 23, almost a month after Seghal’s water consumption had returned to near normal levels.
Seghal says he has paid $350 of the $2,500 bill as a show of good faith while he waits for them to investigate what really caused the spike, but the city has slapped on a penalty for late payment.
The fact that they are charging him interest now on his non-payment is “just adding insult to injury,” he said, adding that it’s, “another slap in the face from city workers.”
Seghal says it’s clear to him there are inaccuracies in the system, whether it’s a human issue or a mechanical one.
City of Toronto’s Manager of Utility Billing Anthony Fabrizi says an investigation was launched after Seghal complained about the high bill and Toronto Water will soon be testing the meter to determine if anything went wrong, but he said a faulty toilet could explain the spike.
Fabrizi says the city believes that Seghal tried fixing his toilet, but couldn’t fully stop the leak, which is why the plumber still found evidence of a much smaller leak, a month later.
Seghal strongly contends he did not touch the toilet and was not aware of any leak until the city’s plumber discovered it.
Manager of Customer Care Services at Toronto Water Carlo Casale says the water gauges very rarely get it wrong.
Casale says when you look at the math from the bill, the spike can easily be attribute to a leaky toilet.
“If you think of a toilet, most tanks are about six litres in volume, so after you flush, say it takes 30 seconds to fill, that’s 12 litres a minute, over a day that’s $66 a day. In a month, that’s about $2,000 a month. It’s very easy for it to add up.”
When told that Seghal had yet to fix the small leak in his toilet and his water consumption levels had returned to normal, Casale says, “We can only charge by what goes through the meter. It’s very mechanical. Whatever goes through there, that’s what we’re going to charge.”
Casale did offer some tips if you want to avoid this happening in your home.
“One way to determine if a toilet is leaking is to listen. You can usually hear it leaking,” Casale said. “If not, you can usually do a little dye test, where you add in a little bit of food colouring, or even a tea bag, and wait about 10 to 15 minutes and see if the coloured water goes into the bowl. That’s one way to indicate if there’s a running toilet that’s uncontrolled.”
There is also a website called “My Water Toronto” where you can check your daily, weekly, and monthly water usage.
Fabrizi says there is a provision in their bylaws called the unexplained consumption increase. But, at this time, since the city has determined what they believe caused the leak, the Seghal’s can’t receive an adjustment under this provision.
The city receives around 1,000 complaints a year from people with high bills and in around 70 per cent of the cases, they give the homeowner at least a partial break on the bill.
If the city does find there was a problem with Seghal’s metre, Fabrizi says all the extra fees will be reversed.
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that the Seghals won’t have to pay their $2,500 bill.