Landlords on hook for sewer, water bills

FORT FRANCES—Some local landlords may be surprised when they open their January water and sewer bill and see a notice from the Town of Frances that all water and sewer accounts for their tenants now must be in their names.
“We want to be sure the potential for arrears is mitigated,” Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said when asked about the reasoning behind an amendment made this past spring to the town’s water and sewer billing bylaw.
“More than that, we want to eliminate ‘bad debt,’ or debt where the town has no recourse for collection,” he added.
The town had passed a bylaw back in March, 2003 requiring “all new tenant- occupied properties” have water and sewer accounts in the name of the property owner.
Tenants who lived at a rental property prior to March 15, 2003, and remained at the same address, continued to get billed separately, utility clerk Patti Roy noted Monday.
Then this past spring, town council amended the bylaw to state water and sewer accounts for all tenant-occupied properties are to be in the name of the property owner.
Roy noted the town is in the process of switching all accounts to the landlords’ names, with landlords to get billed for all their tenant-ooccupied properties in January (i.e., the bill showing water and sewers for November and December).
Those who haven’t already adjusted their tenants’ rents accordingly to encompass the cost of the utilities should do so.
Any tenants’ accounts in arrears during the transition will have to be settled between the landlord and tenant, with any failure to do so resulting in action under the town’s water and sewer collection policy (i.e., shutting off the water or a lien against property taxes).
All the changes the town has made are in accordance to the Municipal Act, 2001.
One local landlord was angry when she only found out about the upcoming change after inquiring about a registered letter she received from the Town of Fort Frances on Nov. 22.
The letter said her tenant owed $462 on their sewer and water account, which the person had failed to make any payment for since January.
If the arrears weren’t settled by the end of that day, she said, the water service to the residence—which houses both the landlord and tenant—would be shut off.
“I was livid,” said the local landlord, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the identify of the tenant in this case.
“It’s not our bill,” she remarked.
“When you’ve given them a whole year to pay, why didn’t you make us aware of it the whole time?” she asked of the town. “How can a tenant be billed for a whole year and we only find out now?
“I think landlords should be aware of this,” she remarked. “If we hadn’t had a problem with our tenant, we wouldn’t have known.”
She noted she has since rectified the situation by arranging for the arrears to be paid, and raising her tenant’s rent by the $63 bi-monthly fee for water and sewer to cover their portion of the bill in the future.
(She noted this increase is allowable aside from any other normal rent increases allowed by the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal).
But due to the fact she only received the notice in late November, this increase in monthly rent could only start in December, meaning she was on the hook for November half of the November/December bill which will be mailed out in January.
She expressed concern for other landlords who may be in the same boat as she was, especially if they had numerous tenants with water and sewer arrears.
(Fort Frances Times)