City Charging for Trash Pickup Residents Don't Use

Some residents may be owed thousands of dollars, NBC LA found

Thousands of residents may be paying for LA trash service they don’t use, and some could be owed refunds of thousands of dollars, city officials told NBC LA.

In February, NBC LA reported that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is billing some residents of apartments and condos for city trash pickup, even though those same residents pay private companies to pick up their garbage.

In recent weeks the bureau has received some 6,000 phone calls from residents concerned that they are being charged for service they don't use, and LA City Controller Wendy Greuel has called on the agency to give a full explanation.

“This is why people don’t trust government,” Greuel said. “If the city has done something wrong, admit it and fix it.”

A spokeswoman for the bureau acknowledged that the inaccurate billing has been going on for years.

"We're not 100 percent perfect" when it comes to correctly billing residents, said Cora Jackson-Fossett, public information officer for the Bureau of Sanitation.

The DWP declined to comment further, saying it was a problem with the bureau and they are merely the billing agent.

That’s small consolation for April Rimer who owns a condominium in West Los Angeles. Rimer’s homeowner’s association pays for private trash pickup, but after reviewing years of DWP bills, she estimates that she's owed a $2,500 refund for city trash collection she never got.

“This whole thing got me really angry, when I saw your story,” Rimer said.

The overcharging stems from “human error” and a 30-year-old “antiquated” computer program, said Javier Polanco, acting manager of the solid resources support division at the Bureau of Sanitation. Staff sometimes enters incorrect information into the billing database, he said.

Officials initially suggested that the number of residents being over-billed might be "small." But Herlinda Rodarte, billing manager at the bureau, conceded that the DWP has no idea how many people might be affected by the billing errors, and that the number is probably in the thousands.

Some residents may have been paying the excess fee for more than a decade.

In a 1998 class action lawsuit (PDF), the Bureau of Sanitation was sued for the same billing errors. The suit said the city was “charging residents of apartments and condos…for sanitation services…even though they received trash pickup from private sources.” The city settled the suit (PDF) in 2001, agreeing to pay “full refunds” to customers who’d been overbilled. But the overbilling continued.

Ratepayers owed a refund by the city will have to be patient: the city admits it might take six to eight months to process reimbursement requests. Rimer said she has made three phone calls and spent hours on the phone with the bureau to get them to investigate her case.

“It’s absurd,” Rimer said.

To find out if you've been wrongly billed for city trash pickup, check your DWP bill to see if you're getting charged a "solid resources fee" (see below, or click here to see such an error on a DWP bill). If you live in an apartment or condo, you're probably paying for private pickup, and shouldn't get that charge on your utility bill. To apply for a refund, call the Bureau of Sanitation's Call Center at 1-800-773-2489.

Reporter Joel Grover will be in studio to discuss the story at 6 p.m.

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