RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond man has advice for other residents after he received a utility bill of over $21,000 from the City of Richmond.

“When I saw the bill, I was shocked,” said Richmond landlord, Gian Bustillo.

The building in question currently houses four tenants. According to Bustillo, the typical water utility bill, since December 2021, had been around $150 a month. But in the month of September 2022, Bustillo didn’t receive a bill. And then October arrived.

“At first I thought honestly it was a mistake,” Bustillo said. “You hear of people getting a trillion dollars deposited into their bank account, so I thought it was human error.”

The bill said that Bustillo owed $2,299 for the month before. In addition, the bill claimed that he was late in paying $18,689.

“I found that there was a toilet that was constantly running,” Bustillo said.

Bustillo was never notified of the leak and the bill had not changed because all previous charges had only been estimates — meaning nobody actually came to check his meter until September.

“This water leak could’ve been happening for months,” he said. “My big problem is why did they take so long to do an actual read between December of last year to September of this year?”

It is quite possible that is the case. A monthly bill of $2,299 for nine months is almost exactly the total amount that Bustillo owes.

A spokesperson with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) told 8News that a lingering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been staffing shortages.

“As we continue ramping up staffing levels, we will continue to work with our customers to address their account concerns, including significant variances on estimated reads,” a statement from the department reads.

Bustillo said he wasn’t warned of estimated reads when he signed up.

“That’s something we should’ve been taught about or told when we signed up to get water,” he said.

DPU also told 8News that their staff reviews any “exceptions” or “spikes” in individual customer readings. However, they refused an interview with 8News to answer further questions about Bustillo’s spike and why it wasn’t caught earlier.

Bustillo has been offered a 50% reduction in his overall bill but he says it is still too high. In the meantime, Bustillo is advising others to take action to protect themselves.

“I bought a device called [Flume Water],” he said. “When [I] attach it to the water meter outside it gives live updates to my phone that tells me if there’s a leak.”

Residents are also encouraged to look closely at their water bills for “E” letters, indicating estimated meters.