Village Board refuses to order utility to cut off service to delinquent renters
Fredonia landlord Larry Waskiewicz hoped that the village attorney might persuade trustees to drop the practice of passing unpaid tenant water bills onto the property owner.
When the Village Board addressed the issue in March, trustees asked that the village attorney be consulted to verify that the practice of assessing landlords for unpaid water bills is legally valid.
Waskiewicz, a former village trustee, noted that more than $1,000 was added to his village tax bill to cover the cost of unpaid water bills from rental properties he owns on Fredonia Avenue.
He objected that village ordinances appear to be ambivalent on whether the bills should be covered by the landlord or the village should pursue collection from the tenants.
Waskiewicz asked that the village simply notify customers that water service will be disconnected if bills are not paid.
“State statutes allow unpaid utility bills to be placed on the tax bill,” Village Attorney Bob Feind said.
“That becomes a lien on a property. It is a very common practice in the communities we represent. That lien is on the property owner, not the tenant.”
Feind called the notion of the municipality pursuing unpaid water bills from renters “a draconian measure.”
To avoid being stuck with such charges, Feind said landlords should simply consider raising their rents and include the cost of water service.
Throughout the discussion, the village has contended it is providing water to the property owner — not the tenant — and the water bills that are sent to tenants are simply a courtesy to the landlord.
Village officials said they refuse to order utility personnel to discontinue water service to rental properties in what could be described as a dispute between renters and landlords.
“The landlord can always turn off the water. It is their water,” Feind said.
Seeing which way the board was leaning, Waskiewicz made one last plea to protect landlords from unpaid water charges.
“If you are a small business owner in the Village of Fredonia, you are pretty much stuck,” he summarized.
Dohrwardt quickly objected.
“We are not the bad guys. We have nothing to say about who you rent to,” he said.
After having the topic hashed over for three meetings, trustees unanimously affirmed the village’s standing policy of placing unpaid water charges on the tax bill of landlords.