A Mt. Sterling attorney is frustrated with the way water bills are collected from tenants and he attended a recent village council meeting to express his frustration.
Attorney Stephen Brooks addressed the council recently about an issue he says he has been fighting “for over 10 years.” He is asking the village to forgive more than $6,000 in water bills for properties he owns or that belong to land lords he represents.
“We request complete abatement of these bills, totalling over $6,100 and bills for other landlord experiencing the same issues,” said Justin Brooks, representing McCliman Properties.
The issues he was speaking of?
“There are two conflicting sets of water rules — the ordinances that, among other items, detail the message and timing of collection of water bills. Neither ordnance is being followed,” said Stephen Brooks.
The attorney explained that village ordinances governing water bills say the bills are to be sent out on or about the first day of the month and payments are due by the 15th.
“If any bill is not paid by the 15th day of the month, the water will be shut off the next business day without further notice,” according to Village Ordinance 2012-16.
Steven Brooks said he does not understand why the village issues late notices when the ordinance says no additional notice will be given. He said he does not understand why the village notifies tenants the water is to be shut off, but does not notify property owners about the delinquent bills.
Steven Brooks said in 2012, village officials promised to make every effort to notify property owners, but but neither he or the landlords he represents has ever been notified. He said additionally, water has remained in service and accumulating debt at residences where the tenant would not allow village officials on the property to disconnect service. He said the landlord would have given the permission.
“Landlords are required by Ohio state law to pay the tenants unpaid water bills,” said Justin Brooks. “That is the cost of doing business. The village has ordinances that govern how the village is required to collect the water bills. When the village doesn’t comply with its own laws governing the correction, costing the village lost revenue, and it fails to mitigate the cost to the tax paying landowners, the village should not recover against the landlord.”
He added, “Compliance with one set of consistent water rules will benefit the village of Mt. Sterling.”
Village Solicitor Mike Pitstick said as far as the village is concerned, the tenant acts as the owners’ agent. He said, by rule, the landlord is responsible for any water bill accumulated at their property.
He did say council could choose to forgive the debts, but said that could set a precedent.
“Council has the right to do that,” said Pitstick. “Council has the responsibility to consider that. I would suggest a committee of three or four councilman should hear that and consider if that’s something they want top do.”
Council President Pro-Tem Lowell Anderson said he would like to have the entire council together and discuss the matter with Village Administrator Joe Johnson, who was not at the meeting.
Council member Heather Rice suggested having a council-only work session, then separate meetings with Johnson and Brooks.
“The administrator is going to have to hear and process, and so we need to have the administrator here to shed some light on this,” said council member Diane Spradlin.
Village officials said they would look at their schedules to work out a date to meet and discuss the matter. That solution seemed palatable to Steven Brooks.
“We understand you may not be able to make a decision on this tonight you may need a week or two to research and decide,” he said. “We will wait until the next council meeting to hear your progress and hopefully a decision on this matter.
At the meeting, Anderson praised the work of village street crews. He said crews worked “many, many hours” clearing the streets. If you don’t like the job they did, go to Columbus and see what snow removal they did,” said Anderson.
Mayor Charlie Neff agreed.
“I want to commend them on that - a lot of long hours, a lot of hard work,” said Neff. “Some people don’t appreciate the job we are doing.”
Mac Cordell can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 21 or on Twitter @MacCordell.