A Michigan woman was recently faced with a seriously steep water bill.
According to the Detroit Metro Times, Nicole Geissinger, a 32-year-old physician, got a $5,200 bill from the city of Detroit.
She called the Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) who told her she received the past owner's bill, which was unpaid, and would face a monthly late fee of over $250 if she did not complete payment, per the outlet.
"I just moved in," Geissinger told Metro Times. "How can I be culpable for it?"
A spokesperson for DWSD told PEOPLE that the bill is correct and the law that upholds it, the Water Lien Act of 1939, has been "in effect for decades."
"This is not a new law. Utility bills lien the property in Michigan if they go unpaid and are transferred to the next owner if not resolved during the closing process. This law has been in effect for decades," the spokesperson said.
"The former owner did not give the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department access to update the water meter for more than 13 months after [sending] notices every month to contact us. They were not being billed for water usage at the property due to a meter issue, which we could not get access to since it's in the property's basement," the representative continued.
He said that even though they were using water every month, it was likely "tampered with" and the city had to reset it "when the new owner gave us access."
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According to records obtained by Metro Times, the past owner was only paying a flat rate service fee. When the new owner moved in, the city repaired the meter, which then accurately showed the previous homeowner's water use.
"Upon that recent access to the water meter, we were able to update the account with the current meter reading," the spokesperson added — this is when the $5,200 water usage was discovered. He continued, "The dispute of the bill is between the previous owner and the current owner, not with the utility."
Nonetheless, Geissinger said it's "unfair" she had to pay the previous owner's water usage and told the local outlet that when the real estate agent checked the title at the closing time, there wasn't an amount to report since the DWSD did not have access.
"I am early, early in my career. I'm a new homeowner," Geissinger said. "But I'm not in a position where I can't pay the bill. There will be a lot of late fees, and it will hurt my credit rating. I'm stuck with a more than $5,000 water bill."
Geissinger spoke with PEOPLE about her next steps — and she says she doesn't "hold the seller culpable" for the predicament.
"My first step is I'm going to contact my U.S. Representative," she says. "I'm thinking about a lawyer at least to consult. I know I can't be the only person that has been in this situation...What I would hope would come out of this is some sort of change."