Monthly Water Bill Woes

Just a comment about some of the things discussed between Roch Smith and Sandy Carmany and others on Hoggsblog about the change from quarterly water bills to monthly bills.

I have heard the city council discuss this topic on several occasions. It is my understanding that one of the main reasons for the monthly billing is to benefit landlords who get stuck with unpaid water bills when tenants vacate both commercial and residential rental units.

If the bill is unpaid for a certain length of time, the city cuts off water to the property. If there is no water, a condemned sign is posted on the building.

The building cannot be leased as long as it is condemned. This leaves the property owner (landlord) to pay the overdue water bill in order to re-rent the property.

I also heard something about not being able to sell the property until outstanding water bills and taxes are paid; because apparently, the city puts a lien on property with over-due bills. I am not clear about just how that works. I just remember some talk about it by the City Council and City Staff.

There was also talk of not allowing a person to get water in another house until the old bill was taken care of by the person who moved while owing it. This could be a nightmare for the city because many people get water service in another person's name to avoid paying old bills at another address.

Monthly billing allows the city to know when a bill is overdue before it becomes a bill for 4 months or more of service. I don't know how much money the city loses on uncollected bills. I suspect it is not much, because property owners must pay up for irresponsible tenants before property can be re-rented.

I would think that a security deposit by tenants in addition to a deposit at the water department could cover the loss to landlords and the city, thus eliminating one of the reasons for monthly water bills. This could be an expensive proposition for renters who make up almost 40 percent of Greensboro residents.


Roch101 said...

Unpaid water bills could certainly be a predictament for landlords. Do we have any indiction of the scope of the problem? How often if happens, for example?

diane said...

According to the conversation that I have heard, it is quite a problem. Sometimes people move out without having the utilities turned off. Thus there is no "final bill" until much later.

Another reason for monthly bills is that if there is a leak that is unnoticed or unknown by a water customer, a three month bill could be huge. I'm not sure what the city policy is about paying for undetected leaks on private property.

Sandy Carmany said...


Per our conversation after today's council briefing session, your observations are on target. Unpaid water bills are a big problem for landlords since water will not be restored to that particular address until SOMEONE pays that final bill. While I agree it is the tenant's responsibility, many landlords go ahead and pay it off just to be able to lease the propery again. With monthly billing, that amount should be much lower because problems would be caught quicker. One would also hope that the number of delinquent accounts would decrease since a smaller, monthly bill might be more affordable to tenants and within their ability to pay.

You are also correct about the liens against the property itself as a last resort for collection. Yes, we've discussed denying new service to anyone who still owes payment on a previous water account.

Unfortunately property owners end up being penalized for their tenant's delinquent debts. But if the city is not successful in finding the tenant who didn't pay up, the only other choice is for taxpayers and/or other water customers to take the financial hit -- not a good option either.

Roch101 said...

Yes, I'm sure unpaid water bills are "big" and "huge" problems for the landlords who get stuck with them. The city is about to embark on an indefinite tripling of its billing costs in order to move from quarterly billing to monthly billing so I think something a little more specific than the obvious statements that unpaid bills are a big problem when they happen is in order. I wonder about the scope and the extent of the problem.

I've rented probably half a dozen homes in Greensboro in my lifetime. Each included water in the rent. Additionally, of the minority percentage of landlords who put the water bill in the tenant's hands, only some fraction of those, obviously, are getting stuck with unpaid water bills. We are talking about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the landlords.

So, it seems to me, we are considering an indefinite tripling of the billing costs for water bills in order to minimize the bad business decisions of a small number of landlords. As Diane noted, landlords have other options. They can take steps to better inoculate themselves from getting stuck with unpaid water bills by better screening tenants, getting a deposit large enough to cover unpaid water bills or including water in the rent, as most do. City government is not the last and only resort. It's not the role of city government to increase the cost to all taxpayers to lessen the business risk of a few, especially when there are other options available.