PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SENATOR AND LET THEM KNOW S.041 IS A BAD BILL AND CREATES AN UNDUE BURDEN ON MUNICIPALITIES, FIRE DISTRICTS AND WATER SYSTEMS.
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: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=S%2E0041&Session=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