The city’s new Utility Bylaw will be a work in progress, but it closes outstanding loopholes by putting the onus for payment of city water on the consumer.
For landlords, the passage of the bylaw at council Monday means they won’t be stuck with paying for water that their tenants use even if they skip town.
Under the new bylaw, accounts already established in the name of a tenant may be maintained until the current tenant vacates the property.
“If the account’s in the owner’s name we can add a tenant and send the bill to the tenant,” said Alan Cayford, director of public works.
“That will make the tenant responsible for the consumption while they have a lease.”
When the lease ends, the account will revert to the owner’s name and the city will meet its objective to retain an active utility account.
“We’ll make the tenant responsible for the water that they use,” said Cayford.
Account responsibility was one of the concerns property owner John Vinek spoke to council about while referencing a letter he sent to the city on Sept. 19.
“The bottom line is, owners should not be responsible for utility expenses that were consumed by others, and especially where owners have no legislated right to take security deposits from tenants for utilities,” wrote Vinek, who owns property in Saskatchewan.
“Paying fees for services at vacant property is also unacceptable or paying high turn off and turn on fees.”
The bylaw requires a deposit of $250 to establish an account in the name of the property owner and tenant.
“If you don’t pay your bill when you leave we’ll keep your deposit and apply it against your outstanding account,” said Coun. Ken Baker.
He said unpaid or overdue tenant accounts will be pursued by the city and any legal action to collect.
The city is working to satisfy a public lobby to shorten the billing cycle from two months to one month.
Up to three months can go by before a bill is received and four if it’s overdue.
“It’s a 2017 initiative for our department,” said Cayford, who noted the switch to one month billing can’t happen overnight.
He noted the current contractor that reads meters would have to read twice as many meters and that would double the city’s contract.
“We need to ensure that we can be economically friendly and responsible to all when we’re doing that and that’s one of the things that we’re working on,” said Cayford.
Cayford expressed relief that the 52 page bylaw passed.
“We can now get on with our lives and get on with the business of making water for the residents of the city,” he said.
He said it was about making sure there was an active water account or utility account for every property.
When it comes to garbage collection, he said the city has fixed fees it’s entitled to collect even if property owners are on vacation or if there is no garbage put out to collect.
“There’s no guarantee that if there is someone living in the home that there is garbage on a weekly basis but there is a charge for the contractor to drive by,” said Cayford.
“So we now have the ability to have an active account at all times.”
Coun. Baker noted that further amendments to the bylaw can be made as the new process rolls out.
He was also pleased the bylaw will not be an impediment to the pursuit of affordable housing by dumping utility costs on landlords.
“It’s really important in our city that we have affordable housing,” said Baker, who doesn’t want to overburden landlords in the housing market.