The Albion City Council clashed with local landlords over how to handle tenants delinquent on their water bill during the council’s November regular meeting Monday night.
The council’s Water and Sewer Committee, consisting of Aldermen Don Rigg and Quentin Speir, was directed by Albion Mayor Wesley Harris to investigate the prospect of raising the city’s water deposit and reinstallation of water service fee to help deter the problem. Prior to that direction, however, it was noted that the city’s ordinances currently splits responsibility for such bills between those renting properties and the landowners themselves.
“The receipts and money for water bills are running in arrears quite a bit,” said Alderman Gary Mason. “According to our code, it talks about liability for charges.
“It says that the owner of any lot (or) parcel…receiving utility services, it says the occupant of the premises and the user of the services will be jointly and severely liable for the payment of such services to that lot.”
From there, the councilman suggested the possibility that the city seek payment for delinquent water bills from the landlords themselves.
“So what I’m suggesting is, and I’m sure they do this in other towns, that the owners of the rental properties here in Albion either need to be liable for paying the water bill for those renters that don’t, according to this (ordinance),” said Mason. “Or would it be better to set up a situation for the people that rent the property to keep the water bills in their name only?”
Mason then questioned if it was legal to place the responsibility of the water bills on the landlords, to which City Attorney Les Smith answered in the affirmative.
“You can do that either way,” Smith explained. “You can sign it over to the (landowner), or make (the renter) put the utilities in their name, just like you do with the lights and everything else.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s up to y’all.”
Smith did note that any cost incurred after the time in which the city ordinances dictate a property’s water be shut off for lack of payment would ultimately be incurred by the city itself.
“It’s the city’s responsibility to make sure it gets cut off,” Smith said of the water. “Because anything after that, if it’s three or four months behind, it’s the city’s fault for not shutting it off.”
One landlord in attendance at the meeting questioned the policy of shifting the onus of unpaid water bills from renters to property owners.
“How would the landowner know if their tenant isn’t paying their water bill?” asked Susan Markman. “You going to send me a note?”
Markman recommended that the city use the $75 deposits they collect from those opening a water utility with the city to pay one month of arrears, then to discontinue service until the second month’s bill total is collected.
“Well you get a deposit, right?” she asked. “Then after 30 days if they don’t pay their water bill, you shut their water off, right?
“Shut the water off!”
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