Poor People’s Rights Violated In Hitchcock: Water Service Termination Without Due Process Alleged

Galveston County Observer News. November 14-20, 2002

Hitchcock-The City of Hitchcock has a set of simple rules in a city ordinance that are to be followed prior to terminating water services. A copy can be picked up or reviewed at the Water Department. It appears, however, those rules are not being followed by the Water Department.

“I have been trying for several weeks to get some clarification concerning the ordinance, but I can’t get anyone to talk with me,” said Steve McIntyre, Managing Attorney, Galveston Office, Lone Star Legal Aid. “The ordinance appears to say one thing  but  the materials sent to me by the Water Department indicates something else is happening,” said McIntyre.

For example:

a.Sec.51.78(A)(2) requires a 10 day cut off notice be sent if the initial bill is not paid. Instead the Water Department states in the message section of the initial bill that “NO TERMINATION NOTICE WILL BE SENT. THIS IS YOUR ONLY NOTICE”

b.Sec.51.78(A) & (A)(2-3) requires all bills to have a warning about the due process hearing rights of customers. The initial and only bill does not provide that information.

Further, it appears that Hitchcock provides no notice of any sort to occupants/renters if their landlord is supposed to pay the bill but has failed to do so and is being terminated. “Tenants using water while renting a house or apartment should receive a fair notice that their water service is being cut off because of the acts of their landlord. A simple post card or notice hanging  on the door from the Water Department will give poor families a chance to call up their landlord to see what is going on, go to the  Water Department and personally contract for water services, or at least fill up some water jugs,” McIntyre said. Any person who needs information about their rights should go to the Water Department and ask to be provided a copy of their rights or a copy of the short 3 page ordinance (Sec.51.70-51.81), read it and then ask their friendly staff questions.

Anyone who has had their water cut off or is threatened with a cut off should contact the Water Department if they want to dispute the bill and seek continuance of services while the dispute is being resolved.

“We had some serious problems in Galveston a few years ago that eventually led to the adoption of a new ordinance. If Hitchcock won’t talk with me, then hopefully they will call up the Galveston Water Department and have a constructive conversation, McIntyre said.

Anyone having  questions concerning their rights as a water consumer can contact:

  • Your family lawyer.
  • State Bar of Texas Referral Service for 30 minutes consultation for $20.
  • Consumer Protection Division, Office of Attorney General of Texas in Houston at (800)337-3928.
  • Consumers Union in Austin at (512)477-4431.
  • The law firm that prepared this public service announcement. The law firm is Lone Star Legal Aid, Galveston Office at (409)763-0381/(800)551-3712.