Monday, February 6, 2017

Open Letter With One Of The 2 Heads That Run The Water Authority. A very angry man...


This letter is to inform you, if you care, what the laws are pertaining to the Water Authority, what they have illegally been doing to landlords lately, and what they currently can and can’t do.

On a side note the city has refused to allow REI of Virginia to have a representative seat on the Water Authority board which consists of 3 city appointed people. We should be permitted to have at least 1 seat on the board when we are getting attacked and forced to pay the delinquent bills of the tenant. Their refusal to allow this only creates more animosity. I’m sure the Water Authority said they do not want to have 1 person out of their 13 person board challenging them. So what….

Hi Mike,

I talked with Mica today there at the Water Authority and she told me that she was fining me $100 for illegally turning on the water at 2115 Salem Tpk and refuses to turn the water on until I pay her fine. I looked back at my records when getting back to the office and that was a Section 8 tenant that lived in that house and I was paid through October so she lived there through the end of October. Mica told me she turned off the water on October 10th. I don’t know why she would have done that but regardless it’s none of my business what she does really until it effects me like it has now. I didn’t even gain possession of the property until the end of the month so my guys clearly did not turn on water. This girl as you will see in our records is notorious for not paying her bill. Over and over almost every month for the entire time she lived there I got a letter from the Authority saying that she hadn’t paid and I was going to get a lien for it. And apparently she kept paying late time and time again as she never got her water cut off as far as I am aware. I’m not sure why the Authority would try to accuse my people of turning on the water illegally. Surprised, I asked them and they didn’t.

At the time when talking to Mica I didn’t know what she was talking about regarding dates and everything because I was not sitting in my office. Regardless, I would like to be sent the exact law that states that the Water Authority can fine a landlord $100 and refuse to turn the water on for the tenant illegally committing a crime against the Authority. Or even a law that states that the authority can put these types of fines on landlords and not go by the legal process that has been laid out by the state.  I have never seen that anywhere in the law. Or anything like it. When I asked Mica how many gallons were used to try to determine what happened she wouldn’t tell me. She just continued to press for the fine staying that that is what I’m going to pay, not the water usage. Bully customer service you have there that have been trained by bullies obviously. I’m very curious if this is something you are now doing to all landlords. Mica falsely told me that the Authority is not governed by state regulations and implied that they can implement any policy they want. She told me to talk to a manager but I’ve historically found that when you talk to a manager at the Authority there is never a different result. They will parrot exactly what the customer service rep said. You can listen to the recording as you have before for verification.

It’s looking like now after my new tenant talked to Mica that she will probably be backing out since she can’t get the water turned on. If she does I’ll have a month or two of lost rent damages against the Water Authority and possibly more. No one can legally live in a house without water so clearly she has no option than to break the lease. I wouldn’t try to hold someone to a lease without being able to have water as I don’t do scummy things like that. And the way I see the law, the Water Authority does not have the legal right to do this. If she breaks the lease that I have with her, at no fault of hers, I’m going to have no other option than to seek damages which will include lost rent as well as anything that happens to the house such as broken frozen pipes, break ins, etc,  from the Authority forcing it to remain vacant.  As of right now I’m out one day of rent at $900 a month which is $30 a day. I can’t charge her for the first of February as she was not able to stay there.  If we get further down the road without resolution and I end up getting foreclosed on due to not being able to pay that note as a result of this action that the Authority is taking, which I see as being illegal, than I’m going to have to seek future damages as a result of my credit being tarnished and my business not being able to grow as a result, the full cost of the equity in the house that I lost, etc. The damages I will suffer will be tremendous. This is something that we are going to need to immediately resolve. Time is of the essence.

This is real interesting that these types of things happen to me considering the fact that most properties I own are multifamily and I pay the water so there are no issues. I only have a few single family houses. I hear these complaints from REI members continuously and am wondering if the Authority is now taking the stance that they will do whatever they wish without regard to the law. I can only imagine what the landlord who operates all single family houses has to go through in dealing with the Authority. I wouldn’t think that that would be something that you would push for Mike. Especially considering how much leeway the state has already given the Authority to bill a landlord for their customers unpaid bill. To push it even further than the law allows is shocking.

I also would like for you to send me the laws stating that the Authority is authorized to accept a fake lease from someone for my house at 1910 Moorman and turn the water on, then put a lien on my property for that when they don’t pay it. Don’t you think the Authority has a duty to at least check what my last lease looked like so when you get a couple page internet lease you will instantly recognize that it is fake?  The Authority historically has been real good about calling any time a tenant turns on the water. ONLY on my real leases. They told me they only call when a lease looks like it is subject to fraud. So all the times the Authority called me on my 20 something page lease that they thought was fraud I said yes so my legit tenant could have water. But they decided on the couple page one they clearly pulled off the internet that it’s legit so they didn’t need to call and find out on that one. The Authority always has known exactly what my lease looks like. They have several copies of it.

I was told by the lobbyist for the state municipalities, John Lain, lobbyist for the Water Authorities and municipal water, Preston Bryant, and the attorney / lobbyist for the Realtors association, Chip Dicks, that the Western Virginia Water Authority broke the law on every single lien that they put on anyones property in our area as well as all charges that were billed to landlords as the process wasn’t handled by what was required by law by having the form signed. They all said that if that form is not signed by the landlord than the Authority is agreeing to not take part in the lien program. They said the language for that is crystal clear. I believe that timeframe would have been all liens from 2012 to now when the Realtor, Apartment Association, Builders Association bill was passed. REI of Virginia members have been waiting to see what you are going to do about that. We naturally would expect this would be handled ethically and once the Authority was notified of this by John Lain that they would do the right thing.

From what it appears, with this new stuff regarding the fines that are being pushed through customer service, the Western Virginia Water Authority has decided to double down and take this stuff far out of the realm of what is legally allowed. What’s your opinion on this Mike? Is this a matter of rogue management that is making up their own rules and passing them on to the staff or is it something that the Authority really is standing behind?


Best regards,


Dallas

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Dallas, good afternoon.  Quite a list of issues in your email.  As they jump around a bit, I have tied to consolidate them.  Please let me know if I miss one or more.  Also, please excuse the length but again, your email does touch on quite a few points.     

1. The Authority takes meter tampering and theft very seriously.  We have had an administrative compliance fee for many years to recover the cost of such issues as 1) investigating meter tampering and /or theft, 2) compensating the rate payers for unauthorized usage, 3) repairing or replacing damaged or stolen infrastructure or 4) unauthorized discharges of wastes to the sewer system.  This charge appears on our schedule of rates and has been adopted and re-adopted by our Board of Directors a number of times over the years.  For meter tampering, which includes turning service on without authorization, the fee assessment for the first offense varies between $100 to $500 depending upon the amount of damage.  A second offense is $500.  Additional offenses are $500 and/or referral to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for prosecution.     
      
Most often, this fee is assessed to customers who turn their service on after being disconnected.  This generally involves customers cutting locks and activating service or bypassing the meters with hoses or pipes.  Other instances when the fee is assessed include property owners activating service for themselves, or their guests, without signing up for service or in the case of rental properties, maintenance contractors using water to clean units before being rented again.  Please let your membership know that if they need water for cleaning or maintenance, the proper procedure is to either a) call and activate service or b) let our staff know that they would like the property to be listed as “revert status”.  This means the service automatically reverts to the owner’s name and is not actually turned off.  This allows for cleaning and other uses.  When the property is rented, the service goes out of the owner’s name and into the new tenant’s.  The owner receives a bill for any consumption during the revert period.

Finally, Code of Virginia § 15.2-5114. Powers of authority, items 2 and 10 provide the basis for this fee and indeed most of the Authority’s business policies.

2. With regard to 2115 Salem Turnpike specifically, the last tenant discontinued service on October 10, 2016.  She left in good standing and received a deposit refund.  I am not sure why you decided to disparage her.  Her forwarding address appears to be valid so I will ask staff to send your email to her and ask her to confirm when she actually did leave and if she has any documentation such as a deposit refund or property inspection form.  You may of course provide such information yourself to support your position.  As Nica related to you, after the tenant discontinued service October 10th, there was no consumption until October 26 & 27, then no consumption after.  This usage alerted our staff to follow up, which they did on Nov 2nd and found the meter active.  The most likely explanation is that your maintenance contractor, who would have had access to the property and likely the knowledge to restore service, turned the water back on.  In listening to your conversation with Nica, you offered to pay for the water consumed and agreed to check with the contractor.  That seems to be an admission that, at a minimum, you suspected your staff used the water.   

Since you made threats to sue the Authority, staff contacted me shortly after the conversation Wednesday afternoon.  As the new tenant had a past debt and was not prepared to pay on Wednesday anyway, as a good faith gesture, I asked that the fee be suspended so that your concerns could be addressed.  The new tenant started service on Thursday.  With regard to the telephone call itself, Nica remained calm and professional while you ranted, threated, and bullied her.  I believe we have discussed previously that type of behavior is unacceptable.  You may yell at me all you want but not the staff, who are just doing their jobs.  With regard to your statements about loss, I would be quite surprised to find that you prorated the new tenant’s rent based upon this event.  I am happy, however, to forward any claims you may have to the Authority’s attorney for review.      

3. I am not sure why we are re-litigating the 2013 lien at 1910 Moorman.  It was handled appropriately and in complete compliance with both the Authority’s regulations and state code.  I would remind you that the Authority is the party that lost $120.14 not you.  Further, if fraudulent leases are such a concern for you, the code provides a notification process where you can send notice to the Authority when you rent properties.  If the individual signing up for service does not match your notice, then problem solved.  Additionally, you are authorized to deduct final utility bills from the tenant’s deposit.  In summary, the tools are available for landlords to act proactively in these matters, they just need to be used.      

4. I spoke with John Lain after the meeting in the fall.  John’s version of the meeting’s discussions differs quite a bit from the account in your email.  I would point out that “not liking” a point of law or disagreeing with it is not the same as it being illegal.  We have followed the law in both letter and spirit and have no plans regarding outstanding liens.  I will however forward your email to John Lain, since he is mentioned prominently, and let him decide if he wants to respond to you.   In any event, the point of disagreement in the code is being removed through the Senator’s bill.  We support the bill as it both endorses the Authority’s long standing use of leases and makes the program easier to implement.      

As you are well aware, Gary and I have reached out to your organization on multiple occasions to settle our differences only to be rebutted each time.  You did not even bother to show for the meeting that the Senator arranged with us last fall.  While I understand the reality of having a whipping boy to help with membership drives and fundraising, Gary and I are still willing to talk,  if you have the courage.   

Michael T. McEvoy
Executive Director Wastewater Services
(540) 283-2904
www.westernvawater.org

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Hi Mike,

My email does not jump around at all. It states a few clear and concise points. Sorry I should have numbered it for you.

1. I’m sure you do take meter tampering theft very seriously. I also take it very seriously when I have your and my customers walk out and not pay me thousands of dollars and then not pay their water bill so I get a lien on my house on top of the damages inside, lost income and court costs. And you are more than welcome to charge the tenant for tampering / stealing your water as I already clearly told you they were in possession of the property the entire month. You have no legal ability to charge the landlord for the theft of another person. I have no need for turning on water after a tenant moves out as my contractor wipes off countertops with a gallon of water and uses a self contained power steam mop and a little generator for power to run it and vacuum, etc. I have no need to pay for power OR water in between tenants.

And #2 and 10 of Code of Virginia 15.2-5114 does not give you authorization to implement a fee to a landlord for theft by the tenant. And note that #10 that you referred to also states that “Such rates, fees, rents and charges shall be charged and collected from any person contracting for the service or the leasee or tenant who uses or occupies any real estate which is served by or benefits from any such system.” The landlord is not "contracting for the service”.  We also are not the "leasee or tenant". You have no legal ability to institute such a fee to the landlord and it needs to be immediately terminated. You’re references that you gave do not say what you’re saying they do. This is an outright violation of the law.

2. I have every single letter the Authority sent to me time and time again of the tenant at 2115 Salem Tpk not paying their water. I’ve never in my life got so many letters from you in a years period of time from one person. If she left in good standing, than why is it that you are telling me that she turned the water back on while she was in possession of the unit? And no, this tenant was Section 8 and I gained possession of the unit at the end of the month. As a matter of fact, I never even got full possession as I never got the keys back and had to tell the Section 8 office that if she is out than she has to let me in the unit. My contractor had to drill the locks out.

And as I told you that you read over, when I was talking to Nica I was not in the office and also didn’t have the benefit to ask my contractor if some reason he didn’t do as we always do. But when I got to the office I instantly noticed that the dates she provided prove who was in possession of the unit. And when talking to my contractor, he did it as we always do. Gallon of water, self contained stem mop, vacuum and generator. Paint brushes are kept in plastic wrap so they don’t dry before being able to clean them up if painting goes beyond 1 day which is rare. Yup we have been doing this for many years and do have a good system down. I will never deny anything without all of the facts as I have no reason to lie to anyone about anything. If water was in fact used by my contractor I obviously would have no problem paying what was used. But it wasn’t. I don’t have a reason to lie as you have accused me of as a few gallons of water is insignificant in cost. Did you guys try to implement this fine because you are finding that some landlords will turn the water on? Is this hundred dollar fine to try to get around the $25 dollar minimum lien limit from them using a couple gallons of water that’s stated in 15.2-2119 Section E? Why don’t you just secure your water and put a lock on it if you are having problems? Seems pretty natural that a company would do that. The power company locks their boxes. Do you not want to pay the expense of locks? You have to invest in your company at least to a small degree.

And I don’t know what you’re talking about ranting, raving and bullying. Why don’t you provide a copy of that voicemail for everyone on this email rather than trying to act like I was bullying her? You have my approval to do so. I was obviously shocked to hear that she was trying to impose an illegal fine on me. And obviously I denied several times that I am legally responsible for that as she kept threatening me that I had to pay it or the house would be shut down so it could not be rented until paid. Sorry but I do not agree to that. She threatened to shut my business down and you’re crazy if you think I’m not going to tell her she has no legal right to do that and I will sue if I have to. Email the recording please so everyone can hear your false accusations. Anyone would defend themselves that is being illegally victimized by the Authority, told the house will be shut down unless I pay your extortion fine. Never once did I bully her. I told her I will sue the Water Authority if I have to as you have no legal right to do this to anyone.  Sorry but that isn’t bullying. It’s simply stating the truth.

And Nica broke the law in the name of the Authority by refusing to turn the water on for my new resident. I suggest you look at Virginia Code 15.2-2119 Section I. “Unless a lien has been recorded against the property owner, the locality shall not deny service to a new tenant…” The Authority can not just do whatever it wants to do to people. I’m sure you’re used to talking to people that don’t know the law but you can not bully me as I do have a pretty good understanding of it. You are not above the law and you do have to work within the boundaries that you have been given. Nica also told me that the Authority doesn't have to abide by state regulations. That’s an example of an extreme lack of training because I’m going to assume the best from her that she wasn’t lying but rather was misinformed by your management. It’s important to train your staff the law so your customers aren’t getting taken advantage of. It appears that they are being given marching orders by your management to break the law. Is that getting passed to your management from you?

And I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about regarding this statement either.  "I believe we have discussed previously that type of behavior is unacceptable.”  We have never had any conversation even remotely resembling this. Actually the last conversation that we had pertained to some sort of  “landlord program” that your staff told me that they were putting me in. As I recall that conversation was after the Authority sent me a bill for service at a property. Then later talking to one of your agents that told me as I recall that this landlord program was a new thing you were doing to automatically turn the water on in the landlords name after all tenants. And that the landlord didn’t have a choice as the Authority set this new program up and that is the way it was going to be. You listened to that voicemail and apologized for their inaccurate information. Please don’t confuse me with someone else Mike. Who are you thinking you are talking to? How many other landlords have been bullied into this “landlord program” that you have your customer service reps pushing?

3. I’m also not sure what you’re talking about the Authority lost $120.14 from your customer and that I didn’t lose $120.14. You’re right. I lost WAY more.  I lost a couple thousand from them. Let me make myself real clear. You have no legal right to turn the water on for someone who is not my tenant. The person you turned the water on for has the same last name but in NO way where they even authorized to be in my house. The real tenant, of which I have and showed verification from my eviction and my lease to your management, obviously got their relative to turn on water. It is the Authorities responsibility to either get a copy of the REAL lease or at minimum contact me to find out if the person is a tenant or not. The lease they sent me is clearly an internet lease. The Authority has MANY copies of my lease as they have seen it year after year, time and time again. I received no contact from the Authority at all about this. And when talking to your management, they told me that they ONLY contact people if they feel the lease is fraudulent. So you guys contact me almost every time on my REAL lease but on that obvious fake lease you decided that it was OK? And why before, in the email between you and me, that you said why didn’t you contact me Dallas I would have taken care of it for you, regarding this lien? Were you trying to get me to not have a problem with the Authority breaking the law so frequently so you could continue to take advantage of other landlords? We have talked about this already Mike. I suggest you check your sent emails.

4. “Not Liking” a part of the law has nothing to do with what that we are talking about right now. What we are referring to on this point is the Western Virginia Water Authority continually breaking the law, on many occasions, and putting liens on landlords properties without getting the written or electronic authorization form that is required by law. This law was rewritten to be understandable and I’m sure you have read it several times. If the Authority chooses not to get this form filled out than they are agreeing to not participating in the lien program. I have an entire room full of many people, in the meeting we had as a result of Senate Joint Resolution No. 75, that all stated that the law clearly outlines these obligations of the Authority. Those people all will also verify that your very own lobbyist stated that the Authority broke the law and those liens should not have been placed. It doesn’t really matter to me if you feel like he was being nice to you when he was talking to you as he clearly stated to the whole group, it is not his responsibility and he has no power or control to be able to get you to comply with the law. All he has the ability to do is to let you know what it says if your attorney didn’t guide you on this matter. I have evidence that the Authority illegally put liens on landlords property and billed landlords for tenants delinquent bills without having this authorization form. As well as collected money from these illegal liens at the sale of properties.

Yes, I do suggest, that before you continue to debate 15.2-2119 with me, that you get your attorney involved. It is important that you have them read the law over and give you direction on how to proceed. We all just want to do the right thing Mike. And I think you can reasonably understand why landlords want to be treated according to the law. Did you realize that we were told by several lobbyists on this issue that, throughout the state, there is no single Authority that is having problems like you guys are? That they have had to make a little clarification here and there on the law but every time it was immediately resolved. It’s just us here, under the Western Virginia Water Authority, that can’t seem to get things resolved. I think it’s due to that Customer Is Always Wrong philosophy that I keep being told by everyone that the Authority here has.

BTW Off topic, the 150K in losses per year that you told our group that you have as a result of nonpayment…. That is a drop in the bucket compared to us. I ALONE have on average $50,000 per year in judgements that will never get paid. And I don’t even have very much property compared to most people I know. Our losses are to the tune of several million every single month...

In summary:
A.) 2115 Salem Tpk - The Authority has no legal grounds to extort a landlord to pay a self imposed fine or shut down the house until paid, for theft of the public water they cleaned, when this theft was by a tenant or someone other than the landlord or his or her management. This policy must be immediately terminated and any income that the Authority has made from this illegal bullying tactic over the years must be returned to every landlord. 15.2-2119 Section I  tells you the process you must follow in order to deny service to a future tenant. You did not follow that process.

B.) 1910 Moorman - The Authority has no legal grounds for turning the water on in a landlords house without the landlord filling out written or electronic authorization form defined in the legislation that was designed for you to follow. Then to top it off the Authority didn’t even call or get a valid lease or anything. Inexcusable. The Authority must remove all liens it has placed since 2012 on all landlords property where the water was turned on for someone who is not a tenant. 15.2-2119 Section A explains this process and describes how the Authority verifies who is and isn’t a tenant.

C.) Generality regarding All Liens placed since 2012 without the required Written or Electronic Authorization Form - All monies from 2012 until now, that have been collected by the Authority based on threats of placing a lien need to immediately be given back to the landlord. All money from liens that the Authority got paid as a result of a sale of property must be returned to the rightful owner. All liens since 2012 need to be vacated and no liens may be placed back on properties until the Authority follows the laws that the state legislature have set in place. See 15.2-2119 Section A

A. For water and sewer services provided by localities, fees and charges may be charged to and collected from...
“ (iii) a lessee or tenant, provided that the lessee or tenant has written authorization from the owner of the property to obtain water and sewer services…” There is a form that must be filled out and the entire law is essentially a contract that the landlord would have to sign. That’s why it starts with information from the landlord and ends with preparation instructions and what you were supposed to file with your liens.  That’s the only way they were able to get around contract law which doesn’t allow you to send a bill to someone that belongs to someone else. Mike, Did you file that authorization form with your liens? I don’t see how it’s possible since no landlord in our entire organization of 850 landlords has filled it out or even been asked to. Were you sworn under oath that these illegal liens do in fact exist and what contract exactly did you record?

 The law also says “A locality providing water and sewer services may establish, by adoption of a resolution, that water and sewer services may be provided to a lessee or tenant pursuant to provision (iii) without obtaining an authorization form from the property owner.”

Also please note Section F where it says to mail the property owner to the "address listed in the written authorization form” a duplicate copy of the bill. Section G & H also refer to the required written authorization form. It’s literally throughout the entire legislation.

You’re acknowledging that you have adopted this resolution by not having this authorization form filled out. In which case you are not participating in the lien program.

I know you are angry that you guys have illegally put all of those liens on landlords property and charged them when you have agreed to forgo this lien program due to not participating in the authorization form program that was outlined for you. That anger has lead to your hostility calling me both a liar and a thief. But that is to be expected, as I was saying, I also have experienced the same as everyone else has with your organization.  The customer is always wrong. Sorry to tell you that I’m not wrong Mike. A room full of the very people who actually wrote the bill verified that. Including your own lobbyist. We have been waiting for you to do the right thing and it’s now been several months of inaction on your part which seems now to be in "bad faith".

Please take care of these things at your earliest convenience.

P.S. I am also now officially giving notice per Section I  that any time any tenant that I have becomes 15 days delinquent, I immediately be sent a notice of this to dallas@powmarcom.com for my records and to give me an opportunity to at least attempt to get them to pay. Fortunately most of what I own, I pay my own water bills. I’m one of your best customers as I always pay my bills on time for all of my LLC’s. I’m certainly not treated that way though. That’s Ok because I still like you Mike.


Best regards,



Dallas

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