CHARLOTTE, NC (Adam Bell/The Charlotte Observer) - Two brothers said they were stunned to get a Charlotte Water bill for more than $300,000 for their restaurant that hadn't even opened yet.
Faraz and Faisal Syed said it took more than two months of dealing with the city before the issue was resolved on Thursday, soon after they reached out to the Observer and other local media about the bill for Lazeez Mediterranean Grill on J.W. Clay Boulevard.
Before then, they said, Charlotte Water turned off their water three times at the University area site, including on Wednesday, just a couple weeks after the restaurant had opened.
They previously owned Tulip's Indian Cuisine at the site, but had closed it in the fall and were remodeling for the new restaurant. In March, the Syeds said, they received a water bill for $308,000 that covered about a 13-day period.
"We were scared and didn't know why we received it," Faisal Syed said.
Faraz Syed said he had returned to Charlotte in late March after a visit to his native India and found the water shut off at the restaurant.
Their average monthly bill for the former restaurant was about $1,000, he said. "The whole family was worried. I couldn't even sleep," Faraz Syed added. "How's that (bill) even possible?"
He had a plumber check for leaks and none were found. Faraz Syed said he called they city to have the water reconnected. In early April, he said he met with a Charlotte Water supervisor who told him the city would fix the billing mistake and call him when that happened.
But Faraz Syed said no one called, and the water was turned off again in late April. He called to have it turned on again. The restaurant opened in early May.
Around that time, a new bill was sent that included the previous balance of $308,805 as well as late charges of $4,001, for a total of $313,006.
When the water was turned off again Wednesday, shortly before the restaurant was to open for the day, Faraz Syed said he had to turn away 17 customers until he was able to get the city to turn the water back on a couple hours later.
"We were like shocked and mad. Why would they do that?" asked Faisal Syed.
Meanwhile, Faraz Syed said, he worried about the impression it made on customers to a new restaurant being told they had to leave.
Faisal Syed said Charlotte Water apologized to him on Thursday and said that someone apparently had misread their meter.
In a statement, Charlotte Water spokesman Cam Coley said the city does not discuss details of customers' bills, but confirmed that the Sayds' concerns were resolved. When asked why it took so long to resolve, he said that in some cases, multiple visits and discussions with customers may take weeks or months.
In general, Coley said, Charlotte Water sends out more than 280,000 bills a month.
"Charlotte Water is committed to delivering excellent water and wastewater services as well as accurate billing for our customers," he stated. "In rare cases, a human or technical error occurs and Charlotte Water works with customers to resolve it, identify the how the error occurred and take measures to prevent it from happening again."