Archive for Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Law protects landlords from billing

Landlords no longer repsonsible for delinquent utility bills

July 21, 2004

McLouth landlords no longer will be left footing the bill for their renters' unpaid water and sewer services.

But McLouth Mayor Jim Schonherr said someone else will.

In recent years, when a McLouth renter failed to pay a water or sewer bill, the city billed the property's owner. If a tenant moved out owing on his or her utility bill, the money had to be paid before the water could be connected for the next renter. Usually the landlord wound up paying the bill.

This spring, the Kansas Legislature amended statutes in Senate Bill 328, making it so that municipalities or improvement districts couldn't hold a landlord liable for tenants' delinquent water and sewer bills.

The city council talked about the possibility of exempting McLouth from the new legislation. But that didn't sit well with several landlords, including Doug Walbridge, a former member of the McLouth City Council.

"I see both sides," Walbridge said. "I think you have to look in the future and see that when you want growth you can't stifle growth by putting more burden on the landowners."

Walbridge, who with his wife, Sandy, owns 10 rental units in Mclouth, said he knows what it's like to have to pay his former tenants' utility bills.

"That's happened to me a couple of times," Walbridge said. "...You want to work with people and get along. We just went ahead and paid it and moved on."

Rather than exempting the city from the amended state statute, the city council last week reached a compromise with landlords.

To help prepare for future lost revenue if tenants skip town owing on their water and sewer bills, the city council voted to increase the utility hookup fee from $200 to $300.

This wasn't exactly what Schonherr had in mind.

"I don't agree with what the city did," Schonherr said. "I think it should have been higher, at least $450 or $500 for a rental property."

Walbridge said that would have unfairly increased the financial burden of new renters, who have to pay the first and last months' rent, as well as the city's deposit.

But Schonherr's reasoning is he doesn't want the city to suffer.

"We're going to get stuck and what's going to happen is the consumer is going to have to pay," Schonherr said. "The consumer is the little lady down the street -- her utility bill is going to go up because of the losses we have to cover."

Schonherr, who owns one rental property in McLouth, said he thinks that in the last year, about $3,000 in utility bills was billed to -- and paid by -- landlords.

Walbridge said he was satisfied with the compromise.

"They removed the responsibility of the landlord paying the tenants' back charges on water and sewer," Walbridge said.

The city of McLouth also provides natural gas to its residents. Debbie Hansen, assistant city clerk, said the landlords will still be responsible for paying tenants' delinquent natural gas bills.

In Tonganoxie, City Administrator Shane Krull said the city doesn't lose much revenue because of unpaid water or sewer bills.

Although he wasn't sure of the amount, Krull said, "It's a miniscule percentage."

That's because the city takes a no-nonsense stance.

"The bills are due on the 20th of the month and the way that the ordinance is structured, 10 days after that if no payment has been made then the delinquent account is shut off," Krull said.

And, Krull said, the city charges a $50 deposit for city services, which covers water and sewer hookups.

If a bill is unpaid, the city can apply the deposit toward the delinquent account, as well as making claims against tax returns the user may receive in the future, Krull said.

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