WILMINGTON — Several landlords in Wilmington attended a March 8 meeting of Wilmington council’s water committee, asking the members of that committee to change how landlords are charged for a renter’s last month’s water bill, if that tenant doesn’t pay the bill.
“Whenever we get a tenant move out, we usually get stuck with a water bill,” said Cheyenne Duggins. “A few of the other landlords, we don’t think it’s fair we have to pay for the water bill we didn’t get to use.”
Utility Billing Department Supervisor Barb McVey said past water committees determined the landlords should run their rentals as a business and make it part of their deposit agreements.
Duggins suggested the department charge a deposit fee to the tenant instead, adding that it usually costs more than the deposit to get a home ready for another tenant.
Landlord Jared Holmes said delinquent water bills cost his business about $5,000 a year. In one case, he said a tenant moved out without telling him and the toilet ran for a month, running up a bill of more than $1,200. Jared Holmes and McVey said some of the costs were written off.
Duggins, who said he wasn’t trying to pick on the utility billing department or the water department, also said it takes too long to get a tenant’s water shut off. McVey said the ordinances require many things before water can be shut off, including that a bill payer be 45 days past due.
Duggins and Shane Gammell, another landlord, said they don’t have to pay water bills in other municipalities.
“From my point of view, I have homes in Blanchester and Midland both,” said Duggins. “The towns seem to work with us landlords really well, and Wilmington, it’s almost like we’re the bad guys.”
McVey disputed that, saying many other cities also require property owners, not tenants, to pay delinquent water bills.
McVey also said that it was determined in previous years that a $200 deposit would be needed. Former Wilmington council and water committee member David Hockaday said the landlords then argued against that, saying the cost would impede their ability to lease units.
“If not, they (renters) won’t get any water until they do,” Duggins said. “It’s like me – if I want it bad enough, I’m going to have to come up with it.”
Diana Allen, who said she works as an office manager for the Holmes’ – Jared and Vince – rattled off multiple delinquent water bills. Those bills ran from as low as $95 up to $284.
“Frankly, the city should be frustrated with these,” Allen said.
Vince Holmes suggested the city shut off water once an account’s past due balance equals the deposit.
“I believe you can work it out where maybe the city doesn’t take a hit financially and these landlords aren’t taking a hit,” Vince Holmes said.
“The renters have no skin in the game, and they know it,” Jared Holmes said. “They play the game.”
“I’m basically here, hat in hand, to ask you simply to do something different,” Gammell said. “It’s just not fair.”
Law Director Brett Rudduck asked why the landlords don’t increase the deposit by about $200, to which Duggins said the city is in a better position to hold someone accountable.
Allen suggested multiple changes, including holding tenants’ accountable for debt, not taxing the property for an unpaid debt and using a collections agency to collect the revenue.
Committee chair Kelsey Swindler and members Mark McKay and Lonnie Stuckert said they want to review the ordinance and determine what could be done.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.