Just because everybody does it doesn’t make it right

Suppose someone parked in front of your house and walked away into the night, leaving their vehicle there – for perpetuity.

One day you get a call from your neighbor: “You know, you have a car sitting in front of your house and it’s covered with parking tickets. We want you to get rid of it.”

“But,” you respond, “it isn’t my car!”

“We don’t care,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “You’re closest to it and it’s a public nuisance. If we removed it, it would cost us. So we want you do it. If you don’t, we’ll take you to court.”

If that stirs up a bit of a sense of injustice in your soul, that’s pretty much the feeling we get when we listen to the city argue that landlords should be liable for unpaid utility bills – in this case, water – that are owed the city, as we report on page 8.

It ain’t right, as the old saying goes.

We think landlords Bruce Hobbs and Monica Sanders have a point that they – and hundreds of others who get left holding the bag when tenants choose to not bother paying their bills – are taking it in the proverbial you-know-what.

It’s true that the city is running a business, in this case, providing water. We hear city folks saying that they have to recoup expenses somehow.

We also recognize that this is a legal, widespread practice – among public utilities, anyway. They have customers they can’t collect from, so they go after somebody else, a third party, who has no contractual liability for what the city has lost – except in the mind of the city.

We do appreciate that our city staff is attempting to be responsible with the public’s money. But this goes beyond that.

It’s unfair and even, at the risk of sounding preachy, immoral.

What would we think if, say, Pacific Power were to begin filing liens on landlords for unpaid power bills and denying service to a property and future tenants because of the delinquency of some bygone slacker who didn’t paid his bills or maybe was simply a poor schlep who couldn’t, for one reason or another?

Should a property owner be charged for food stolen from the local grocery store by a renter who has flown the coop?

We turn this one around and look at it through the other point of view. We try to mangle out some kind of argument why the city should do this, why any public utility ought to. We can’t, other than that the almighty dollar reigns supreme, over all other moral considerations.

The fact that public utilities across the land are allowed to do this doesn’t necessarily make it right, and the City Council should do the right thing and end it. Now.

Thanks to the city’s new no-tolerance policy on carrying forward any balance at all (we can sure understand and respect the reason for that), it’ll be a smaller problem overall. But that still doesn’t mean a few landlords should continue to carry the burden.

The city ought to do what other utilities – and businesses do. It should accept, as a cost of doing business, the reality that some people don’t pay their bills, price accordingly and go after delinquent tenants using a collections agency.

It should continue denying service to the people who actually have contracted for service but don’t pay. It should stop hassling landlords and tenants who have nothing at all to do with the city’s arrangements with other residents.

Rental housing has been tight enough lately in Sweet Home. Government officials across the county have expressed concerns about the shortage of housing for those who can’t afford, or for other reasons, don’t want to buy.

Making life harder for landlords, who aren’t at fault in a contract that their name isn’t on, isn’t fair or good policy – even if everybody else is doing it and even if it brings in a few dollars.

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