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dirty waterLandlords in one Wisconsin town are hoping to get a reprieve from a rule that makes them liable if their tenants don’t pay for water.

Under current law, landlords can be served “pink slips”–add-ons to their property tax bill, every time a tenant walks away from the water bill.

On the other hand, when the landlord pays the tax bill, the tenant’s slate is wiped clean, leaving them free to rip off the next landlord, and the next.

Landlords spoke out at a Fond du Lac city council meeting last week in support of a proposed measure which would place more of the blame for unpaid water on the delinquent tenant who used it.

City officials object to the measure, saying if landlords don’t pay, it will increase the cost of water for others in the community. They say landlords should be more careful when selecting tenants.  City officials admit they lack the manpower to disconnect power to delinquent tenants, and have no immediate plans to implement such a policy.  Because billing occurs on a three-month cycle, landlords often don’t know the tenant is delinquent until they receive their annual tax bill.  By then, the tenant could have racked up months of bills.

Landlords can sign up with the utility for notification of delinquencies, but that does not change the liability.  In fact, a landlord who spoke last week claimed he had just received seven pink slips each totalling about $500 that will be added to his property taxes.  He explained that under the current system, it is impossible for a landlord to plan for such an expense.

Another landlord raised the point that screening tenants doesn’t avoid the problem, because once a landlord pays the bill via their tax assessment, the tenant’s record is wiped clean.  She says that the utility should be more careful to screen customers.

Upon further discussion, it was revealed that there currently is no record kept of whether a particular tenant paid the outstanding bill,  so once a former landlord pays the tax bill, the delinquent tenant can sign up for water at a new address with no consequences.  And because there are no public records of delinquencies, there is no way for a landlord to know if they are renting to a problem tenant.

Last year, the city placed about $550,000 in unpaid water bills on the property tax rolls.  There is no record of how much of that amount was generated from rental properties.

At the end of last week’s hearing, one council member apologized to the landlords in the room and admitted that in earlier meetings he did not fully understand the inequity of the situation.

The council decided to roll the discussion to the next meeting to allow more time to explore more viable solutions, which will likely include better notification systems, and a possible deposit system that holds tenants more accountable.

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  • Larry Cornwell

    It’s the tenant, not the landlord, that contracts with the city water department to turn on his water. If he misses a monthly payment, his water is turned off. If he expects to get his deposit back when he terminates his lease, he will pay his bill. That’s how it is in Montgomery, AL, and I’m astounded that Fond du Lac city officials would want to put the burden on the landlord to pay the back bills. They need to automate! Water boxes in Montgomery have a transmitter that sends usage information to the city, so meter-readers are no longer needed.

  • Douglas Gross

    Elmira Water Board, Elmira, NY. All the water meters are in the landlords name and is billed every 3 months. Either the water is included in the rent or the landlord collects the money from the tenant.

  • Stephen

    Olympia, WA. Water may be in tenant’s name. Unpaid bill is a lien on the property. Since billing is monthly, prior to returning damage deposit it is easy to check whether the last bill has been paid (and to withhold appropriate amounts). Also, we opted to be notified when the tenant is delinquent. If Fond du Lac wants the landlords to pay, then they need to make it easy to know what is happening on the bill.

  • Mike Grover

    This is an outrage,tenants seem to get away with everything here in Illinois-had a tenant last year let the bathtub run for 3-weeks,I got a 3k dollar bill at the end of the month-tenant was being evicted and pissed off about it ,so she skipped and we didn’t know,we can’t change the locks or enter unit until they turn in keys or wait 3-4 weeks until sherriff comes out to serve them..600 to evict and now 3k water bill –rules in Illinois are completely for the tenant-stay out of Illinois

  • R S

    In Bloomington, IL Landlords are responsible for Tenant’s unpaid water bills and added to Landlord’s home water bill. If Landlord refuses to pay landlord’s water supply is disconnected. Some times, Landlord get a big surprise from evicted tenants and deliquent tenants who vacate and leave the area without paying. It is very difficult to go through the legal process and collect the hefty unpaid water bills.

  • Mike Grover

    Ok, maybe I was a little hard on the State of Illinois by stating “stay out of Ill”-just very frustrated with the city Inspection dept (PACE).,Courts,judges,and the major utilities company’s controlling this area…

    This started in 2009 and boy can I tell a story-It’ll all be disclosed,all of our information is documented,backed-up on separate hard drives along with 3-years of a mound of paper trail that lead to:

    Abusive use of Power by an City Official,violations of “Fair Housing,HIPPA,,MHA,Fair Debt Reporting ACT,EPA,”Freedom of Information Act….goes on and on…Just a concerned Landlord- things need to change….

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