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If you find that your water bill has suddenly increased unrelated to your water use, you may have been hit with an Attributed Consumption Charge. Attributed Consumption Charges (ACC) result when the DEP determines that property owner has misrepresented their water use to obtain the utility without paying. In this event, the DEP will charge the owner a maximum amount calculated by the diameter of the meter or based on the number of units in the building. Misrepresenting water use will typically be called a Theft of Service (and sometime Denial of Access).

How does the DEP determine if there is a Theft of Service?

There are several criteria laid out in Section 3 of DEP Water Board Regulation 4. We’ve displayed them below, along with a brief explanation where necessary.

  • Unauthorized bypass of the meter. This refers to a meter that was bypassed such that a portion of the water is not being measured or reported to the DEP.
  • Tampering with the meter. Tampering is a catch-all term for any unauthorized modification of a meter.
  • Breaking, picking or damaging the meter seal. Every NYC water meter comes with a tamper-proof seal. Any evidence that this seal has been broken constitutes a violation.
  • Removing, disabling or adjusting meter registers. The
  • Removing the meter or removing the meter installing the meter backwards. A backwards installed meter will not properly record water use.
  • Moving the meter without permission. Moving a meter requires authorization from the DEP. Failure to file the correct paperwork can result in a violation.
  • Extending authorized flat-rate residential services to any unauthorized commercial users. Some properties may be charged based on a flat-rate rather than based on usage (read more about flat-rate billing). Extending the plumbing from a flat-rate building to use water in another building is not permitted.
  • Extending authorized flat-rate residential services to any unauthorized residential services.
  • Unauthorized connections to water lines, hydrants, valves or other appurtenances not owned by the Customer.
  • Tampering with any equipment designed to supply or to prevent the supply of any System services either to the public or to the Customer’s premises
  • Use of sprinkler system water service for any purpose other than fire protection
  • Obstructing, defacing or destroying the meter to prevent a meter reading. This can be as bad as destroying a water meter to as mild as blocking it. If your meter is in a basement and blocked by a large object like a refrigerator, you may be in violation.
  • Any unauthorized direct or indirect connection to the sewer system
  • Any other action or inaction that may reasonably result in costs to the System or the loss of revenue to the Board

It’s important to note that while some of these criteria clearly represent someone with malice attempting to use water without paying, many of these items can occur without the knowledge of the property owner. If, for example, a plumber were to move a meter to accommodate a renovation, but doesn’t file the paperwork, the DEP is within it’s jurisdiction to charge for attributed consumption, despite the fact that the owner did not use any unmetered utilities, nor did they have intent to do so. Because the DEP is a regulating body and not a lawmaking one, it has no burden of proof for cases of theft. A violation of any criteria the DEP created is enough for it to charge a fine, with no need to prove intent as would be necessary in a court of law. This is important when it comes to fighting the charge, as discussed below.

What is the cost for Attributed Consumption Charges?

The cost begins with an initial administration fee of $250 for denial of access and $650 for theft of service. After these charges, the DEP calculates your Attributed Consumption Charge, which is typically the maximum amount of water your property could have consumed.

The exact cost of attributed consumption is detailed on page 33 of the Water and Wastewater Rate Schedule. However, the DEP document obfuscates the true cost by not displaying the price and by using non-standard units to measure water–water is billed by HCF, not gallons. We’ve attempted to make it clearer in our tables below.

Commercial Properties

Meter Size Gallons per Year HCF per Year Price per Year (as of January 2020)
5/8” and less 400,000 534 $2,130
3/4” or more and less than 1.5” 1,000,000 1,336 $5,330
1.5” or more and less than 3” 3,000,000 4,010 $15,999
3” or more and less than 4” 5,000,000 6,684 $26,669
4” or more and less than 6” 10,000,000 13,368 $53,338
6” or more and Less than 8” 25,000,000 33,420 $133,345
8” or more and less than 10” 50,000,000 66,840 $266,691
10” or greater 200,000,000 267,361 $1,066770

Residential Properties

Units Gallons per Year HCF per Year Price per Year (as of January 2020)
1st 200,000 267 $1,065
Every unit after the first 170,00 227 $905 for every unit after the first

How do I fight an attributed consumption charge?

Because theft of service is charged as a rate and not a fine, there is no simple path to dispute the penalty. Overturning the charge generally requires proving the DEP’s specific accusation to be untrue, or determining if they have valid proof to charge you. The DEP is also required to send notice of any violation; failure to do so would be grounds to fight an attributed consumption charge. However the process can take a long time and requires constant calls to the DEP, which ultimately often leads to the DEP disregarding your appeals.

You can read more in our article about sending appeals to the DEP.