How much water do you use in a month? If you live in a Chicago-area condominium or cooperative with a single meter for the entire property, you probably don’t know.
Your association includes its monthly water and sewer bill in the monthly assessment that you and your condo or co-op neighbors pay. Your portion may be a flat rate based on the number of units in your community, although some boards tweak the numbers to strive for fairness.
“They may divide the bill based on square footage, number of occupants, bathroom fixtures, or a combination,” says Jerry Baker, president of National Exemption Service, Inc., a Safety Harbor, Florida-based utility metering and billing company with Chicago-area clients. While such adjustments can help, Baker says they can’t account for individual usage quirks such as teenagers taking long showers, or snowbirds who winter in Florida and use no Chicago water for three or four months.
Arthur Blankenship, president of Argen Inc., a metering and billing firm in Conyers, Georgia, is immediate past chair of the Utility Management & Conservation Association. He says the solution to such problems is submetering—installing an individual meter in each unit and billing each unit separately for its own usage, plus a nominal monthly fee to a third-party billing service. In effect, the servicing company becomes the condo or co-op’s accounts-payable department for all utility accounts and anything else that can be quantified, such as cable TV, high-speed Internet, and garbage and trash collection.
The Inner Workings
The process of installing a submetering system begins with a legal review. The Illinois Commerce Commission allows submetering, says Kyle Nelson, client development executive for Ocius LLC, a Chicago-based billing company.