Published: Nov 01, 2010 10:14 PM EDT
Updated: Nov 01, 2010 7:15 PM EDT

EAST LEE COUNTY, Fla. - If you don't pay your water bill your water gets shut off; but a loophole is allowing some neighborhoods to go years without paying, leaving you stuck with their bill!

Your utility bill is pretty straight forward.  You don't pay, you get cut off.  But some people aren't facing that consequence.  One person in the East Lee County neighborhood we talked to admits he's not paying and neither are several of his neighbors.  It's gone on in some cases for more than five years.  The bottom line is when they don't pay it costs you.

"It can affect our utility rates because obviously if you're not going to pay it's obviously a loss of revenue for the utility," Patricia DiPiero with Lee County Utilities told WINK.

Call for Action obtained a list from Lee County Utilities of the people who owe the most money.  As we started going through the names and addresses, we noticed a pattern.  The home topping the list owing the most money at $3700 is right across the street from number 11 on our list, which owes more than $2200.  

We did the math and the 20 longest standing accounts owe a combined $50,000 to Lee County.  The utility company  typically turns off the water after a customer hasn't paid their bill within 37 days, but these bills date back nearly five years.
So, how are the owners of these small homes able to rack up thousands of dollars in bills all without getting their water or their sewer turned off?  All of the customers have their own private well for water.  They only use public sewer.

Patricia DiPiero with Lee County Utilities explains that the Health Department won't let them plug the sewer because it would create a public health hazard.

"With the folks who are our sewer-only customers, if they don't pay a bill there's no way for us to stop service for them," she said.

The utility can't put liens on customers' homes either.

"We do have some folks who have been going for years without paying their bill and they are notified they are delinquent on their bill.  And every quarter they are sent a statement saying how much you owe and if it is still unpaid then it is sent to a collection agency," DiPiero told us.

Homeowner Shawn Nowak says he's trying to catch up and blames the economy for falling behind.

"It's been approximately a year.  We're trying to put the house on the market," Nowak explains.

For sewer only, the bill costs $37 a month.  We calculated that his $1200 bill went unpaid for almost three years.

But  DiPiero says even after years without paying the utility tries to make arrangements so all of us don't have to pay more.

"We do try to collect the money and we are providing you a service and if you're provided a service then normally you're compensated for that service and like I said we really do try to work with our customers to help them out in this situation," she explained.

DiPiero also told us that anyone who is having trouble paying their bill should give them a call and work out a payment arrangement.  She says even after they've had to call the collection agency they will still try to work with customers.
But still, you're footing the bill for all the effort to hire collection agents to make these folks pay up.