Kent City Council wants landlords’ names on utility bills

Andrew Schiller

Last night Kent City Council voted 7-2 to change city policy so utility accounts will be under landlords’ names instead of tenants.’

“There’s a huge time-saving factor if you bill property owners as opposed to tenants,” law director Jim Silver said.

Barb Rissland, director of budget and finance, pointed out that during a sample period, January to September 2006, there were 327 delinquent accounts in Kent. Of those, 46 percent belonged to tenant residents, who make up half that percent of the total resident population.

The total amount of those delinquent bills added up to $21,903.

“It gets into a problem when somebody leaves an unpaid bill,” Rissland said. “We don’t turn off the new tenant because of the old tenant’s delinquent bill.”

Usually the landlord would then be asked to pay the bill before a new tenant moved in, she said.

The city has to invest a lot of man-hours to handle delinquent bills and water shutoffs, Rissland said.

“These are problems we would hope to mitigate by putting accounts in property owner’s names.”

Councilman John Kuhar said that, under Ohio law, “you can’t deny service to a person that is creditworthy.”

“We are allowed to just bill the property owner under tenant law,” Silver said.

If a landlord wasn’t paying a certain utility bill, the tenant would then have to address that with the landlord, Silver said.

That was also a concern for councilman Bargerstock. He said if a landlord was to die or otherwise be delinquent, a tenant couldn’t bypass the landlord and request service.

The same could go for businesses whose landlords for whatever reason weren’t paying utility bills.

“Some of those water bills can be quite high, thousands of dollars monthly,” Bargerstock said.

The new policy will also allow for exceptions to the law in the case of special situations.

Councilman William Schultz brought up an amendment, which passed, saying the city will do final meter readings at the request of landlords. He also spoke in favor of the policy change.

“It takes a little more pencilwork and accounting, but not that much,” Schultz said. “It allows us to streamline two departments, and there are cost savings involved with that.”

Councilmen Garret Ferrara and Kuhar voted against the policy change.

“Property owners are sort of vilified in this town,” Ferrara said. “I think there are alternatives that are yet to be looked at.”

Contact public affairs reporter Andrew Schiller at [email protected].