RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond man is looking for answers from the city after he was hit with a $21,000 water bill.

Gian Bustillo owns a building with four tenants on Richmond’s Southside, and told 8News he got a shock while opening his water bill on Monday.

“I opened the bill after work around 5:30 p.m., saw I had a large bill — the bill was $21,144.68,” he said.

The bill for over $21,000 that Bustillo received on October 24, showing a carry-over charge of over $18,000 from the previous month. (Photo: Gian Bustillo)

Bustillo said the bill for that building is typically around $150 a month. 8News verified that by viewing two bills for water service to Bustillo’s building — one from August showing charges of $160 and $147 over two months, and the other he received this week showing a charge of over $21,000.

Bustillo typically receives bills for the building of around $150, orders of magnitude less than the one he received this month. (Photo: Gian Bustillo)

That charge included a carryover of over $18,000 and a late fee, both from the previous month. Bustillo said he doesn’t even remember getting last month’s water bill, which usually comes in the same envelope as the commercial sewage bill that he did pay last month.

“I don’t remember seeing a water bill,” Bustillo said. “I thought it was a human error, because it’s orders of magnitude larger than the bills I usually get.”

His thoughts immediately turned to the possibility of a massive leak that somehow went unnoticed. But there had been no flooding in the building, so he checked the meter itself.

“I saw the water meter was running pretty quickly compared to what I’ve seen before,” Bustillo said.

When he went to check the shutoff valve, however, he saw a pool of water collecting below it, suggesting there might be an underground leak. Now, Bustillo believes there might have been a leak pouring water out for months — it just wasn’t reflected on his bills, because previously the charges have only been estimated, meaning nobody actually came to check his meter until September.

That’s potentially left Bustillo to foot the bill for several months of thousands of dollars of wasted water that went unnoticed by the city.

As soon as he received the bill, Bustillo called the Department of Public Utilities’ emergency line, but he says an employee told him to call back in the morning. So, he did just that, calling as soon as the office opened at 8 a.m.

They told him someone would be out to assess the meter and see if there was a leak, but they warned him that if it was on his side of the water meter — which appears likely — they couldn’t guarantee that the bill would be reduced.

On Wednesday, no one showed up to check out the problem, so he called again that evening. and then again Thursday morning, when DPU told him they couldn’t say for sure whether anyone would be sent out by the end of the week.

If the city does push Bustillo to pay the full $21,000, he said he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

“Maybe sell the property and be done with it,” he said. “It would be a disaster, so I’m kind of desperate here.”

Now, Bustillo just wants the city to communicate with him and help figure out a solution.

“I don’t mind paying a bill that’s fair, that’s more than average even,” he said. “I am at the mercy of the city taking a look at it and then concluding that it’s on their side.”

In the future, he said he hopes the city will notify customers when something like this happens before the bill hits their mailbox.

“You’d think there would be some sort of notification, some sort of red alert, all hands on deck,” he said. “A bill like this could really set people back permanently financially.”

8News reached out to the Department of Public Utilities for comment, but have not yet received a response.