MSD mistakenly puts lien on man's home
How would you like to get bill after bill for something you never bought? But even worse, the business sending you those bills puts a lien on your property, possibly damaging your credit.
That's what a South County man said happened to him. And the business? The Metropolitan Sewer District. So, he reached out to 5 On Your Side Investigates to get answers.
The bills were piling up at Nick Messmer's house.
"I called them and said, 'You keep sending me bills,'" said Messmer.
The bills were for sewer service from the Metropolitan Sewer District. There was just one problem with that.
"I have a septic!" said Messmer.
He even showed it to us. But he said despite more calls to MSD, four years later, nothing had changed.
Messmer showed it to 5 On Your Side, as means of proof to verify his side of the story. He was still using a septic tank, but the bills for sewage service kept coming; bills he refused to pay.
"I'm confused about how I could get a bill in the first place. They just pick out houses that aren't getting bills and send them to them?" asked Messmer.
To make matters worse, MSD took action after claiming he owed them more than $1,600.
"We went ahead and placed a lien against the property because we don't have the ability to shut off properties. We don't have a lot of tools available to us, but we do have to collect those bills," said Lance LeComb, spokesman for MSD.
MSD admitted billing Messmer's septic property was a mistake.
MSD previously told 5 On Your Side mistakes like this can happen because they receive a raw data dump of information from the water company and that information goes into their billing system. But what do they do to actually make sure the bills are accurate?
"There is no way for us to systematically go through and verify if a home is connected to a septic system, not the public sewer system," said LeComb.
Joan Swartz was a trustee on MSD's board for three years. And she says the utility needs to do better.
"I do think it's on MSD to verify it's an appropriate bill to collect. It should be looked at on a staff level so they can address it," said Swartz, who is also an attorney.
5 On Your Side also asked St. Louis University professor of law John Ammann to look over the case.
"These lawsuits, whether they have merit or not, can have a real effects on consumers credit and their ability to get housing and jobs. These things are being filed very quickly with not a lot of work to check the validity of the debt," said Ammann.
As for Messmer, he said he had to contact local lawmakers to finally get the lien taken off his property.
"How can they get away with doing this to people time and time again?" asked Messmer.
MSD urges people to contact them immediately if they feel they've received a bill in error. You should also document each attempt you make to reach out to the company and correct the situation.