R100 a week for water - prepaid water meters forced on Parow residents

Tariro Washinyira
Tenants who live in Victoria Court, Parow, have had water meters installed without their consent. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.
Tariro Washinyira

Tenants in Victoria Court, who are mostly immigrants, are unhappy with the prepaid water system installed without their knowledge in April. They say they never signed a new rental agreement or agreed to pay for water on top of their rent.

GroundUp visited the complex on 1 May and was shown the prepaid machines and swipe cards. The tenants did not wish to be named.

GroundUp found stinking, unflushed toilets. According to a tenant, a man who stays in the complex said, “If you flush a toilet after recharging [the meter] with R50, all the money is gone.”

Tinopona (not her real name), a 27-year-old Zimbabwean woman who came to South Africa in 2008 and is doing her articles with an accounting firm in Cape Town, moved to Parow because she says she was constantly robbed in Gugulethu. Her laptop was stolen.

In 2011, when she got her internship, she moved. She is sharing a room for R1,800 per month, excluding electricity.

Tinopona said paying for the electricity has been hard enough without now having to pay the additional cost of water. She says her water bill is R100 a week.

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Tenants say this new prepaid machine is expensive and does not show how many units were purchased. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

She said, “I feel like I am back to square one again with this new installed water system. I do not earn much money. The little money I am earning I spend on my young sister who is a student at University of Western Cape. I wish they had informed us about this new system. The problem is we cannot compare this new system with the normal City Council rates because we haven’t been paying for water [separately before].” It had been included in the rent.

“The disadvantage of the system is we cannot see how many units we have purchased and can also not see when the water is about to finish. Two weeks ago I came from work and found the new system installed. I do not have direct contact with owner. We just pay rent to him electronically … We do not use much water since we are not at home during the day.”

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Write a letter in response to this article

Letters

Dear Editor

I do nursing. Naturally, therefore i do more washing. Nevertheless when i purchase more water i get less.

It does not make sense. The money in my pocket does not get to where it's directed. It has to buy water first. My R50 only buys me 1,500 litres of water whereas before it gave me at least 4,000 litres!

Why are we penalised? Why does this disadvantage not apply to all South Africans. Is this a clever system to bully and manipulate the poor further?

Dear Editor

People are complaining regarding water. People should go to JHB Water and ask them why water is so expensive,
I have 16 one room flats and the bill comes to +/- R14,000 & sometimes R19,000. I have been fighting with JHB Water most of the time regarding the high bills,

According to them that's the price of water in SA. That's the Government we voted for. If we want changes then we should vote for another party otherwise things will get worse.

Dear Editor

We are fighting the same battle. Our landlords will be putting these meters in as well.

We do not want them there as our leases stipulate water is included.

Dear Editor

To all who are worried about pricing on water meters:

Firstly understand that these meters are not intended to cause harm to anyone. We know that water is a right. However, who has to pay for the service to your tap? Who pays for burst pipes? For those who have never paid, who helps the landlord with the bills?

These meters protect the tenant and owner alike from being overcharged and to help regulate correct tariffs. Municipalities are struggling. We all need to work together for a better future.

Dear Editor

I have lived in Parow for 3 years. I already pay an amount for rent big enough to pay off 2 bonds. At first water was included in the rent for the first 2 years and then for the 3rd the lease agreement changed, stating we would be billed an additional R100 a month for water and that's excluding the 10% increase to renew the lease.

Now that its time to renew my lease, it still states that I will be billed R100 per month for water, however they want to also install a Prepaid water meter. I understand that we need to save water and that Cape Town is in a water crises at the moment however I am worried as to how much extra it will cost.

From the little salary that I earn I already have to pay the rent, feed my children and wife, pay for electricity as well as my child's education, living costs are already ridiculously high. I just feel that these water meters are unnecessary.

Already we wash our clothes by hand to avoid high electricity costs but now if we do that we will incur high water costs.
I feel that someone needs to fight against these meters.

I'm not being selfish. All I'm saying is that our government needs to understand that we don't want things for free but we at least want to be able to afford to live and with the cost of living already being so high, these water meters are only going to make it more difficult to be able to afford to live.

Dear Editor

Sub metering is illegal according to the NRCS (National Regulatory for Compulsory Specifications) in Pretoria. My suggestion would be to see if on the dial or body of the meter to see if there is an SA XXXX number. By law all water meters Pre-Paid or Post Paid must be SANAS (South African National Accreditation System) type approved with the SA number clearly visible.

Dear Editor

Most landlords concluded leases prior to this water debacle and have paid for water and sewerage for years for their tenants. No landlord could have foreseen this enormous cost increase. The situation has changed entirely beyond his/her control.

Tenants do not respond to numerous written requests to reduce water consumption leaving the landlord with enormous bills. Moreover, often there are people sharing the flat who are there illegally. If a tenant does not wish to pay for what he/she consumes, then find alternative premises if you can where water will still be "free". I doubt that a tenant will find such.

Landlords are not subsidised by government or any other institution, and often rely solely on rental income as a return on an investment in a commercial building or as a retirement income. In December 2017 my water/sewerage bill was R2,450 and on 4 May it will be R6,550. An increase of over R4,000. This excludes charges for rates and refuse removal.

My rents are going to have to be increased and I intend installing prepaid meters. Ten years ago I installed prepaid electricity as several tenants absconded, leaving me with astronomical accounts.

Dear Editor

The water board just spent a billion Rand on computer programs. These bills need to be paid by all of us. Complaining will not help.

Dear Editor

I support the installation of water metres because it helps to control usage thus saving water in the process.

However, i have a problem with tariffs the landlords are imposing on us. These tariffs are 2 to 3 times higher than those of the CoC. I am being charged R60 per kl and its a step charge of 0>6kl and am charged R99 rand from 6>10kl.

These tarrifs are a ripoff. On a 100rand worthy of water i het charged 10% service charge and a 15% vat. Who is getting the profits of selling water to us for 2-3 times the normal council price? Are the body corporate robbing us and making money in the process? Is this legal?

I have also been experiencing problems with the metre whereby my water disappears. Last night i bought 100rand worth of water and got 0 .8kl and woke up this morning with nothing. Never used the water at all after i loaded it. Right now i have no water even though i had purchased water and i feel my rights are being abused.

Not sure if these metres are calibrated properly. Where can i go to get clarity on the legality of the tarrifs charged?

Dear Editor

I agree that water meters are reasonable but only if there is a governmental regulator ensuring that the sub meter operator charges tenants the same as the local authority tariffs. At the moment sub meter operators are for-profit entities with no government regulator looking over their shoulder. They have every incentive to overcharge tenants.

R150 gets us 500 litres. Trying to get the landlord, or the sub meter operator to prove that we are not being overcharged by providing the tariffs the City of Cape Town charges them, has been akin to butting my head against the wall. Of course it would be, since there is no incentive for them to divulge that they have been overcharging us, other than the threat of cancelling my lease, which is not exactly credible nor that worrying from their perspective.

There is a scary asymmetry of information and power. Information, since they know whether we are being overcharged. Power, since we cannot stop paying the exorbitant rate, since stopping payment means the taps stop running.