Property owners weigh in on city utility changes
By Pat Sunderland
Published Thursday, November 3, 2016 8:23 am
A proposal to make landlords responsible for utility costs, not the tenant as is currently the case, has drawn strong objections from owners of rental property in the City of Delta.
After objections were raised during the Oct. 18 city council meeting, utilities/public works director Steve Glammeyer, city manager David Torgler and other staff members sat down with the owners of rental units to discuss their concerns. In the end, Glammeyer said he would withdraw the recommended change and "start a conversation" about reinstating a $75 utility deposit. He also apologized for not involving property owners in the discussion from the beginning.
The change in the city's municipal code was intended to address cases where tenants move out of a rental unit without paying for electricity, water, sewer and other services provided by the city. The change would have placed the burden for collecting utilities directly on the landlord.
But the landlords insisted the city is never left holding the bag for those utilities, because they themselves will pay the bill if necessary.
Glammeyer agreed the city is not out any money, but is incurring "soft" costs for the staff time required to read the meters for tenants moving in and out. Shut-off notices, termination of service and reinstatement of service all add to labor costs.
"We will continue to get paid [for the cost of the utilities] either through the property owner or a lien on the property," he said. "We get made whole on the utility bill one way or another. It just takes us many months to do it the way it currently is."
Several landlords at the Oct. 18 council meeting said the city has never had to place liens on their property because they always pay the overdue bills. "The city is not having to spend money to collect from our tenants," insisted John Vigil, who manages the Windsors with his wife. "The city has not lost a dime from any of us," he said, speaking for all of the property owners at the meeting.
"We don't provide the utility; it's not our responsibility to collect it," Dick Moore said. "Make the user pay. Use due diligence to find out if they qualify."
He said it's not unusual for a tenant to run up a utility bill at one rental property, then move across the street and sign another utility agreement. The renter still owes hundreds of dollars, yet the city allows that individual to run up another utility bill.
At the city council meeting, attorney David McConaughy explained the city is constrained in its ability to do credit checks or to deny service to someone with a delinquent account because the city is a regulated monopoly. "We can not refuse to provide service to someone with poor credit," he said.
The city can, however, share payment history with landlords who have obtained written permission from prospective tenants. Upon request, the city will also notify landlords of pending shutoffs that could result in damage to property, as would be the case if the heat were cut off to a rental unit during the winter months.
City staff and council were commended for those services, as well as for their willingness to hear input from the property owners.