Village balks as landlord asks that utility service be shut off to tenants delinquent in payments
Village of Fredonia officials faced a chicken-or-the-egg debate over municipal water bills during last week’s Village Board meeting.
Landlord Larry Waskiewicz, who is a former village trustee, asked village trustees to order that water service to three of his rental properties on the 400 block of Fredonia Avenue be turned off because of unpaid water bills.
When such overdue water bills occur, it has been the village’s practice to pass those charges on to the landlord.
At the end of last year, Waskiewicz said the village added more than $1,000 to his tax bill to cover the unpaid water bills of his tenants.
The most recent quarterly bill showed his tenants owed between $95 and $329 in additional water charges.
“Every time I get a notice from you guys, it just kills me,” he said. “All I am asking is that you help me.”
The problem, Waskiewicz said, is his lease agreements with the tenants specify they are responsible for paying all utility bills.
“The bills come in the tenants’ names,” he said.
Village President Don Dohrwardt said the state Public Service Commission discourages utilities from disconnecting service. As a remedy, village ordinances give officials the discretion of disconnecting rental properties or seeking financial relief from the landlord.
Dohrwardt said he considers the landlord and not the tenant to be the customer in such cases.
“We bring water to the curb stop. We can’t cut off one or two services. That is the landlord’s responsibility,” he said.
In order to shut off water service to individual rental units, Dohrwardt said utility personnel would have to go inside the building, which is not something normally done.
“You are asking us to enforce a lease agreement between two private parties,” Dohrwardt said.
“I don’t know if we have ever gone beyond our curb stop to turn off water.”
Dohrwardt said the landlord, not the village, is the only one with a binding contract with any tenant.
“The village, as a service to the landlords, sends bills to the tenants,” he said. “We do not belong in your basement, taking sides between you and your tenants.”
Trustees agreed the issue is cloudy enough to warrant a consultation with the village attorney.
Waskiewicz was told he would be invited back to a future board meeting after an attorney’s opinion is prepared.
“This seems like something we shouldn’t walk away from,” Dohrwardt said.
Officials noted the village averages about 50 delinquent water bills a year, but most of those cases are resolved after the customer is sent a notice explaining that payment plans can be worked out and that unpaid bills will appear on their next property tax bill.