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Landlords remain irked by water billing change

Decision to eliminate tenant bills will cause problems, owners say

Two landlords on Thursday complained to the Altoona Water Authority that its recent decision to eliminate tenant billing would make the rental business more difficult for them.

The board did not respond. The issue was discussed over several months and finally decided in April, according to solicitor Dave Consiglio.

“It stinks if we have to be a collection agent for the water authority,” said landlord Steve Bickel.

“You’re forcing me to take on this responsibility that I don’t want,” said landlord Steve Rose. “It’s another burden on us.”

The board made the change, which still hasn’t gone into effect, to reduce administrative labor — including verification of photo IDs when tenants open accounts, pursuit of landlords to cover tenant delinquencies, final meter readings and closures for tenant accounts and hassles connected with delinquent tenants who move, then try to sign up for service at a new location, Billing Director Ron Becher has said.

“How will this save administrative costs?” Bickel asked.

The authority has more leverage to collect from tenants than do landlords, he said.

After the policy goes into effect, he may need to visit tenants to collect for water bills multiple times, which will add to his own administrative costs, Bickel said.

The new policy will add to the problems when tenants don’t pay their bills, Rose said.

“Do I turn them off?” he asked. “Do I get a (curb shutoff) key?”

The new policy is likely to force landlords to incorporate water bills into their rental charges, according to Bickel.

The policy will also cause problems when tenants leave in the middle of a month, making it hard to tell who owes what, Rose said.

Part of the bill would be the responsibility of the tenant, and the rest would be his responsibility — a significant responsibility if he goes into a property and uses lots of water to clean up, he said.

“Will you separate the bill?” Rose asked. “If I have to sue them, I need something to take to the magistrate.”

“You guys are set up for mass billings, and we are not,” Rose added. “Just because you passed it, doesn’t make it right.”

The new policy goes into effect July 1 for new water and sewer service applications. Authority staff will give landlords and tenants a year or so to adjust existing leases.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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