Looking after an unoccupied family home can be a problem, especially when you live almost 600 miles away.
Bill Keicher of Burlington, Mass., would check on the house in Brookline when he was in town on occasional business trips related to his job as a senior member of the technical staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory.
As the executor of his father's estate, he was responsible for all of the household expenses, including the $16.09 monthly bill from Pennsylvania American Water. The water was left on because he had placed the house up for sale with a real estate agent.
When the April water bill arrived, it was for the usual $16.09. But it also included a charge of $4,392.14 for 483,100 gallons of water that the company said had been used from mid-February to mid-April.
Mr. Keicher, 65, called the water company and asked if there was an error in the meter reading or if the account had been "hacked" in some fashion.
A customer service representative told him the bill was correct.
He asked a relative in Pittsburgh to go to the house to see if there were any visible signs of water leaking. The relative, Jeff Baker, found a note on the door from the water company. It was dated April 18, said water use was "considerably higher than normal" and suggested that it be checked out.
Mr. Baker heard the sound of running water inside the house, used his iPhone to record it and forwarded it to Mr. Keicher.
Mr. Keicher called Pennsylvania American and asked it to shut off the water. He also told Columbia Gas Co. to shut off the gas as a preventive measure. He express-mailed a house key to Mr. Baker, who found no water damage anywhere in the house.
Mr. Baker also found there was no water in the tank of a toilet on the second floor. The flapper valve in the tank was stuck open. Water entering the tank to refill it was flowing directly into the bowl and down the drain.
"If the water company had made a measurement in March instead of April, the water usage would have been cut in half," said Mr. Keicher, adding that he pointed that out to Pennsylvania American.
He called American Modern Insurance Co. because the house was insured as an unoccupied residence. The insurance company said the policy didn't cover this type of incident.
A plumber repaired the toilet and the water was turned back on.
After several more calls to the water company, Mr. Keicher contacted the Post-Gazette, explained the problem to me and asked if I could help.
I called Pennsylvania American and asked if it would review Mr. Keicher's account to see if he qualified for a one-time abatement.
After examining the account, the water company agreed to reduce his bill to $483.71.
Mr. Keicher said the house now is occupied by his brother, Terry, who recently moved back to Pittsburgh from Wisconsin.
Asked what advice he had for other long-distance property managers, he said:
"Shut off the water when you leave the house for more than a week."
Shut these off, too
It's a good idea to shut off the hot and cold washing machine hoses after each use. If that seems excessive, the amount of time spent cleaning up after a hose bursts can be excessive and expensive, especially if the washer is on the first or second floor. Hoses showing any signs of wear should be replaced.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call.