We need fresh water supply and sanitation. In Costa Rica, that jobs falls on the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA), commonly called “aquaductos”, like “estoy a aquaductos” (I am at the water office).
While the state institution has made significant progress in the past decade, but the sector faces key challenges in low sanitation connections, poor service quality, and low cost recovery.
Here are a few lessons to learn about how this institution works:
One, they will cut your water supply within five days of your bill due date. For example, if you bill is due on the 30th of the month, you can expect to be cut off by the 5th of the following month. Without fail. Of course, the sanitation system will continue to work, you can still flush away!
Unlike way back in the old days (a few years ago in Tico time) when you could go months on end without paying your water bill, acueductos is now on the ball in collections. And charging for customers for it.
In fact I bet this is good revenue for them. Acueductos charges a disconnection and reconnection fee of around ¢6.000 colones that is added to the following months bill. And they are so good at it: they disconnect in the morning and if the bill is paid before noon, will reconnect in the afternoon. Paying after the noon hour means you will go without water until the following day. No need to call to tell them you paid, they are instantly notified of the payment, either online or a point of sale (ie, supermarket, drug store, bank, etc). Important to note here, all disconnections are between Monday and Thursday. This being that since acueductos does not work on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, if you get disconnected you will have to wait for between two and three days to get water again. They do have a heart.
Two, there is a difference between “residential” and “commercial” billing. And there is a BIG difference in the rates.
If the service is at a commercial location it is clear you are being billed at commercial rates. But what about a house? That is where it can cost you. It is a logical assumption that a house pays residential rates. But, in Costa Rica, a business can be located in a house and acueductos is good at tagging the service to the property as “commercial”. How do you know? You don’t. The monthly bill, which by the way is being phased out, does not indicate the type rate applied. To know this, you will have to check with the AyA directly.
An indication of if you are paying residential or commercial for your house water is if your bill is much higher than your neighbour, given the same type of house and number of persons in the house. Also, if the house was ever in the past used for commercial purposes, ie an office, good chances the rate applied is commercial. How do you know that? You don’t, again, have to go to AyA.
Three, any leak past the meter into your house is YOUR responsibility. You can ask acueductos to make an inspection, but, if they find the source of the leak on your side of the meter, you will have to pay.
Which brings to number four, challenging acueductos. Yes, you can challenge your bill.
If you think you are being charged more than you should, like your current bill is two, three, four or more times than usual, you can ask for an adjustment.
With your history billing in hand (they have it all in their computers, so don’t sweat it if you don’t a physical bill), you can claim a problem and since their system (other than the disconnection/reconnection) is so f***d up, in most cases they will make an immediate adjustment – usually taking the average billing for the last three to six months.
In the case they won’t make the immediate adjustment, you can ask for an inspector to review the meter, the line into the house, etc. This will suspend the collection temporarily until the inspect makes his/her report. Again, if the find the leak, you are up the proverbial creek. If not, now you can start negotiations in your billing.
Always challenge an unusual bill. Acueductos counts on their customers not complaining, the Tico attitude of “as is” (that’s the way it is), and impossible to fight against a state institutions like AyA.
Where to complain. If you live in the west end, the best place to challenge your water bill is in Pavas, no not at the big blue AyA building, but across the street, two doors west of the fire station. This is the office of the union fund, as marked outside, but the first door to your left once inside the main doors, is the “services” office, where few know that this is also a complaint office. Here, you can be in and out in about 10 minutes.
If you live in the urban area of San José you will pay more, since the service includes sanitation. For instance, a typical water bill for a house in La Sabana or Rohrmoser will be between ¢16.000 and ¢24.000 monthly. In the rural areas (outside the small city centre) of Santa Ana the same bill is about ¢4.000 monthly.