Continuing to adjust city policies for their ever-changing population base, East Carbon officials ratified a new water rate ordinance on Feb. 26. The ordinance, which passed unanimously, establishes that the owner of any property in the city is liable for the collection of utilities used by their renters.
The ordinance was drafted by city attorney Jeremy Humes at the city council's behest as unpaid water bills ran up by renters who then skip out has continually left the city an ever widening gyre of debt.
"We need to pass this tonight," said council member Darrell Valdez, during a work meeting prior to the council's regularly scheduled session. "The city is simply losing too much revenue."
Per the draft, read by Mayor Pro Tem David Maggio, "the continuity of the collection of utility charges from renters has caused sufficient concern to the City of East Carbon to compel the ordinance."
According to Humes, the law is retroactive to the date of its passage, meaning that those with current renters are not responsible for their charges. However, once the current renter leaves and the landlord applies to have the water returned to their name, they will be advised of the contract and asked to sign.
"Today, I got a copy of Price City's and Questar's policies," said Humes when questioned by the council concerning templates for the city's contract. "We will develop our own agreement which will benefit the city. I also recommend that we create a clarification pamphlet which explains several landlord/renter policies, specifically that a landlord can't withhold utilities in order to perform a de facto eviction."
According to Humes, the city has been inundated over the past couple of years with legal questions and difficult situations concerning rented homes. He advised that the pamphlet be drafted to make clear just what a landlord's local responsibilities are to both their tenants and the city.
"I see this as a great step forward with what we are trying to get with landlord agreements," said Council member Barbara Robinett. "This is a step forward."
Prior to the council's vote, a local property owner with several rental locations spoke up concerning the liability of land owners.
"As a landlord, I know that tenants who don't pay their rent can get pretty vicious," said area resident Roger Bunn. "So what happens if three days before they leave, they turn on all their water and then take off, I'm liable for that under this agreement. That's the only problem I have with the policy. Can we stipulate for that type of situation?"
The council, who has been working for the past several years to clean up the city's residential area and make land owners more culpable, where not swayed by the protest.
"You are going to be responsible. You are the landlord," said Maggio. "My advice would be to not rent to vicious people."
Robinett also answered the question.
"You need to have an agreement with your renters which would allow you to take them to court in the event that they skip out on the water," she said. "This ordinance is being drafted to protect the city's interests, that is our responsibility here."