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Homeowners stuck paying water bills for others' property

Posted at 10:33 PM, Jan 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-13 22:33:23-05

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — Homeowners at Babcock Ranch said they’re stuck paying the water bill for property they recently discovered doesn’t belong to them.

Karen Whitmore gathered with about 10 neighbors in front of their homes on Saturday. They said they were misled to believe their lakefront homes included the patch of land leading to the man-made lake. Whitmore said she was shocked to find out otherwise.

“We’ve been paying for the irrigation, assuming that it’s our land. And now we’re finding out differently,” she said.

This week they found out the land in front of the lake behind their homes isn’t theirs. Babcock Independent Special District owns it instead.

And they aren’t the only ones fronting the bill for property they don’t own. A woman in Cape Coral asked friends on Facebook what to do because builders next door were using her water supply for their construction needs.

The post read, “When did it become common and ok practice for builders to hook up to existing homeowners water supply for their water needs?”

She also said builders went as far as disconnecting her hose that’s attached to her home and connected their own.

Real estate attorney Michael Hagen said the builders could face consequences because it’s on them to ask if they can use that homeowner’s water in Cape Coral.

“They should get permission to do. Otherwise its theft, it’s trespass. And it certainly puts them at risk of some type of action against their license if the owner chose to make a complaint,” he said.

Babcock homeowners said they opted to pay $500 for the irrigation which includes a sprinkler system that waters the property they thought belonged to them.

“We all had our sprinkler systems turned on. There’s your sprinkler in the back of the yard here. So there was never any indication that it wasn’t our property,” said Whitmore.

Hagen said before seeking legal help, homeowners should try to talk to the people using their water.

“Talking about a problem is always the right place to start. Some people like to jump right in and hire an attorney like me or another one, but that may not be necessary,” he said.

Hagen said Babcock homeowners should review their contracts to make sure it’s not their responsibility to water the land in front of the lake.

“Unless there was some contractual obligation that they entered into with the builder to water something that the homeowners didn’t own, I would think that they certainly don’t have an obligation,” he said.

It’s unclear as of Sunday if Babcock homeowners are required to water the land in front of the lake.