Landlord has point on water bills


It isn’t often that I take sides in disputes, but Bruce Hobbs has good reason to express his concerns regarding water bills for renters (“Homeowners object to being stuck with renters’ delinquent bill” Jan. 17).

The power company, the natural gas company and the sanitation department deal directly with their customers and do not hold a landlord responsible for unpaid bills. The city should not either.

Many years ago, I was serving on the City Council and periodically, the finance director would present a list of water bills requesting the council’s approval to write them off. After a few of these experiences, I proposed and the city adopted some procedures that seemed workable (though a little hard on some). It seems that they have gotten away from these recommendations. Why?

The city is in a better position than any of the above utility companies or any business for that matter. There is no reason for a single dollar to be lost due to unpaid bills. There is certainly a cost to the city to file liens. Here is what we talked about approximately 20 years ago:

1. Every new customer: Make a deposit for two months of water and sewer.

2. Bills provided at the end of every month and due by the 15th of the following month.

3. If not paid by the 15th, a delinquency notice is sent (maybe on red paper) letting the tenant know that the bill must be paid by the 30th or the water will be turned off by the city. There could be a $5 charge for sending out the delinquency notices to discourage people from taking advantage of it.

The city has a deposit to cover water and sewer up to that date, and there is no loss. If unpaid, turn the water off on the 30th. Water shut-off and turn-on would also have a charge to cover the city cost of a Public Works employee so that people would know the city is serious.

There is no reason for either the city or landlords to be left holding the bag for delinquent or dishonest water users. I know that if this is printed in the newspaper, there will be some opposition; but delinquency by some is always a cost that is picked up by honest ratepayers, and I feel the vast majority of residents would welcome such a policy.

I was still serving on the council at the time when, unfortunately, one of the first turn-offs happened with a friend of ours who was bathing her baby at the time – Ouch! There will be some charity cases where this may not be the answer. That is for the council to work on.

Bruce is right. The landlord did not order or buy the water-sewer any more than he would be responsible for their phone service. Why should he be held responsible?

Liens have their place just as they are used by any creditor, but placing them on a landlord is not the appropriate answer.

Most businesses who offer credit would love to have a resource like this. You could reduce your accounts receivable to almost nothing.

Henry B. Wolthuis

Sweet Home