Saturday, October 16, 2010

Western Virginia Water Authority Continues Their Relentless Attack

A bill got passed in the late 1990's that requires landlords to pay for tenants unpaid water bills. Over the years many changes have been made in an apparent attempt to tame rogue Water Authorities. No change has been accepted that removes the responsibility of a landlord for their tenants unpaid bills. Billing a third party for a product or service that they had no beneficial use of is not only unconstitutional but is illegal in all forms of law.

There are a number of states that fought legislation like this and won deeming it unconstitutional.

A number of REI members started getting liens placed on their properties for tenants unpaid bills starting in 2009 so we put together a water committee to work on getting things changed. We talked with many local Virginia senators and delegates for the state legislature and everyone we talked with was surprised that this unconstitutional law could even have gotten through. They are also willing to help us repeal it... with exception of Onzlee Ware.

Delegate Matthew Lohr and Senator Ralph Smith in the 2010 Session tried to help repeal all language that states the 3rd party landlord would have to pay the tenants unpaid bills. The bill they were introducing was sent to the Committee of Counties, Cities and Towns and they "stalled" the bill or in other words shot it down not allowing it to be voted on.

They later in the 2010 session supported a bill by delegate Glenn Oder that still required the property owner to pay the tenants bills.

The members on the Committee of Counties, Cities and Towns who "stalled" the bill that repealed the unconstitutional language are:
Glenn Oder, Matthew Lohr, Riley Ingram, Robert Marshall, Daniel W. Marshall, Salvatore Iaquinto, Anne B. Crockett-Stark, Charles D. Poindexter, Donald W. Merricks, Barry D. Knight, James W. Morefield, James e. Edmunds, Christopher Stolle, James LeMunyon, Lionell Spruill, Onzlee Ware, Albert Pollard, Delores McQuinn, Algie Howell, Scott Surovell, Kaye Kory, and Luke Torian.

I contacted Onzlee many times and his receptionist blocked me on every contact saying that Onzlee was concerned about the issue at hand and was looking into it and he will give me a call once he gathers some information. She obviously didn't think that I would end up finding out that Onzlee is the reason it got passed.

We also talked with the water authority in an attempt to get them to back down on their attacks against landlords while we get things changed. They said they would make a number of concessions but if we attempted to get the legislation changed they would require no water can be turned on in any house without it being in the name of the homeowner. Quite a stretch in my opinion and I think they would have an extremely difficult battle in doing so that would end up in failure.

Mike McEvoy, the Executive Director of Wastewater Services for Western Virginia Water Authority said:

"The Authority will set up an email account for property owners to register their properties with the Authority's billing division. In addition to physical addresses for each property, the registration information shall include contact information (name, address, telephone number, and email address) for a representative of the property owner so Authority staff can verify lease information. The Authority will require customers requesting service at these locations to provide the Authority with a copy of their lease. The Authority will copy the property owner on delinquent statements for customers at these locations. The Authority will set up direct telephone access to a staff member should property owners wish to verify the status of a particular account. The Authority will investigate use of credit reporting for customers that default on their accounts. Both parties agree to look for ways to get property owners with ongoing leak problems to make necessary plumbing repairs. Although not discussed in the meeting, the Authority will review its lien program to see if it can be modified to focus more on problem locations. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions."

I registered with them thinking that Mike was a man of his word and found that they reneged on their original agreement. They said on one property I own, there has never been a delinquent payment so they will not inform me of their being one until the 3rd issue. Personally, I would like to know right away so I can contact my tenant and nip it in the bud but the Water Authority refused to let me know. I also sent them a copy of my lease that the tenant signs to that allows me to check their utility bills from time to time to ensure they are being paid. They didn't care about my signed approval to check their utilities and still refused to let me know.

Another one of my properties that I just bought they told me that I will be notified because the house already has 3 delinquent payments on it. The funny thing about that is that I just bought it and my tenant has never been late. They decided to judge it based on the house and the previous landlords who have owned it. Now this rogue Water Authority has really taken it to the extreme.

A few years ago (2004) they were given the label of being a quasi governmental agency when they became an "Authority". What that basically means is that they are a private business with government powers. Similar to the Federal Reserve. And they are taking advantage of their title in a big way.

In addition they have not honored their agreement to focus on problem locations as they continue to give our members liens. They previously defined problem locations as being locations where a landlord knows of a leak in the house but refuses to repair it and continues to rent it out. The tenants get a huge water bill the first month they are there and move out without paying it and the landlord turns around and rents it again without fixing the problem.

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard. Why would a landlord not make a couple hundred dollar repair and continue having to re-rent a house over and over every year. Sounds far fetched to me but they said it exists.

Due to their lack of honoring our agreement we have no other option than to continue with legislative changes and or to sue them. Right now it's time to stop talking and start doing.


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