Hi all,




The Senate Government Operations Committee recently passed out a bill on
water disconnections and tenants' rights.  S.041 is tentatively scheduled to
come up by the full Senate early this coming week.  Click on this link to
read the bill as passed out of committee:
=2014.  Open up the link as passed by the committee - the text is on page
215 of the notice calendar.


In a nutshell, the issue was raised by VT Legal Aid in an effort to protect
tenants from having their water disconnected due to delinquent water charges
payable by the property owner/landlord.  There was much testimony over the
past several weeks, with VLA pushing to allow tenants to establish accounts
in their own name, and with VLCT and several municipalities/water resource
groups/water departments advocating for allowing tenants to make payments,
but not establishing accounts in their own names.  The SenGovOps bill does
allow tenants to establish accounts in their own names - and leaves many
unanswered questions:

.         There is no provision for collection of a deposit.  Would a
utility be allowed to collect a deposit?  If not, how is there any surety
for the account?

.         There is no language addressing what happens when the tenant moves
out of the building.  Would the account revert to the owner/landlord?  Would
the tenant be required to notify the utility that they are moving?  Would
they be required to make final payment on their account, or could they just
leave, with any final amount reverting to the owner/landlord?

.         There is no language addressing what happens with the
owner/landlord pays off their delinquencies.  Will the account automatically
revert to the owner/landlord?  Will the tenant be allowed to force the
utility to continue to keep the account in their name?

.         There are questions about mulit-unit buildings that are served by
one water meter.  If only one tenant comes in to establish an account, would
that account serve the whole building?  If that tenant then defaults on
their bill, would another tenant be allowed to come in and establish the
account in their name, and so on, and so on?


There was discussion about the statutory language that allows delinquent
water & sewer charges to be handled the same way as delinquent taxes, and
some municipalities (including Barre City) have moved in that direction - we
don't do any disconnections at rental properties, we just put them up for
tax sale.  It was proposed that disconnection of rental property be
prohibited, but those in attendance testified that disconnection - and the
preceding threat of disconnection - are valuable collection tools and should
not be taken away.


VLCT proposed language that would allow a tenant to make payments on a water
bill without being responsible for any delinquencies, but keeping the
account in the property owner's name.  That version had the support of most
of the municipalities, etc. in attendance.


There is a companion bill in the House Government Operations Committee
(H.228).  They haven't taken it up yet - they're waiting to see how the
Senate version comes out first.


Please let you senators know this is a bad bill with many unanswered
questions.  At the first day of testimony, SenGovOps chair Senator Jeannette
White said the goal of the proposed legislation is to protect tenants and
not place a burden on municipalities.  The bill as passed by committee is
definitely burdensome to municipalities, fire districts & water systems.


If anybody has any questions, feel free to call or email me, or you can talk
to Karen Horne at VLCT.


Carolyn S. Dawes, CVT

Barre City Clerk/Treasurer

6 North Main St.

PO Box 418

Barre, VT   05641

(802) 476-0242 phone

(802) 476-0264 fax