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Village Council— Landlords protest policy

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At Village Council’s March 2 meeting, local landlords made clear that they are not happy with a proposed policy change that would hold them responsible for their tenants’ unpaid utility bills.

“Look at the cause and effect. Landlords will not expose themselves to this type of liability. You’ll get higher rents,” said Dean Pallotta.

It’s not fair to hold property owners responsible for their tenants’ bills, according to John Cannon, because in the situation of a longterm renter, “the landlord is basically not in the picture. It doesn’t make sense to do this.”

Sam Young disagreed with a Council members’ previous statement that landlords should be responsible because they are making money on their rental property.

“Whether someone is making or losing money is irrelevant to the issue,” he said.

And Council could solve the problem by having a more effective process for collecting past-due bills, according to Bob Baldwin.

“If you do your job, this will not be a problem,” he said.

All together, eight local landlords spoke to the issue. The topic was discussion only, and Council will continue the discussion at its March 16 meeting, before taking steps to change its current policy.

Currently, the Village holds only renters responsible for their utility bills, and if a bill is unpaid and the service turned off when a renter leaves, service will be reconnected when a new renter arrives, with the past-due amount remaining unpaid. However, in recent months Council members have indicated interest in changing the policy to prevent continuing to lose revenue, after Village Finance Director Melissa Vanzant reported that in the past 25 years, the Village has lost almost $500,000 due to unpaid utility bills. Much of that loss was due to renters leaving town without paying their bills, Vanzant said.

At Monday’s meeting, Village Manager Patti Bates presented a proposed policy recommendation that would hold the property owner responsible for the renters’ unpaid utility bills, assess delinquent accounts to the landlords’ property taxes once a year and delay reinstatement of utility service until all bills are paid.

To aid property owners, the Village would contact them immediately after a tenants’ bill is past due, so that the landlord could make sure the bill is paid, Bates said. Currently, a bill is past due 30 days after it is issued, and service is disconnected 60 days after the initial bill.

The proposed policy change is in line with the policy of other area towns and cities, according to Bates, who presented a survey of 33 municipalities. Out of that number, 25 municipalities, including Springfield, Dayton, Oakwood and Xenia, hold the property owners responsible for tenants’ unpaid utility bills, and four others refuse to reinstate service until property owners pay up, which amounts to the same thing, according to Council President Karen Wintrow.

“About 90 percent of these towns hold the property owner responsible,” she said.

In response to the landlords’ concerns, Council member Gerry Simms suggested that the Village make sure that it is doing sufficient due diligence regarding the collection of unpaid bills. However, Council member Brian Housh questioned the time and expense incurred by the Village if it takes on new collection responsibilities.

“We need balance” between the needs of the landlords and those of the Village, he said.

Council member Marianne MacQueen suggested that the issue of unpaid bills should be a mutual concern of landlords and the Village.

“Properties wouldn’t be valuable without utilities,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair that the Village has to eat” the tenants’ debt.

The question should be, what’s most equitable, according to Wintrow, who questioned whether it’s fair that all Village residents, rather than landlords, are currently paying the bills of some delinquent tenants. And while some of the landlords urged Council to run the Village more like a business, a municipality is not strictly speaking a business, she said.

“We’re in the business of providing services, not making a profit,” Wintrow said.

Council tasked Manager Bates with researching some of the questions raised by the landlords. Council will revisit the discussion at its next meeting, and move ahead with new legislation sometime after that.

Other items on Council’s March 2 agenda will be in next week’s News.

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