EBMUD lengthens water shutoff policy

March 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The East Bay Municipal Utility District's board of directors voted unanimously today to approve a new policy that lengthens the time period before water is turned off at tenants' homes in multi-unit rental properties due to a landlord's failure to pay water bills.

But the board declined at this time to place liens on landlords' property to collect the unpaid charges, heeding a staff report that said the lien process is costly, time-consuming and there's no guarantee that the water district would ever be paid.

However, the board agreed to reconsider the lien proposal in two months when staff provides a report on the effectiveness of the policy approved today.

The board also kept intact for at least another two months a temporary moratorium approved Feb. 26 on shutting off water to tenants living in foreclosed properties where the landlord or financial institution has stopped paying the bill.

Dawn Phillips of Just Cause Oakland, a local group that works on housing rights and brought the issue to the board's attention last month, said after today's vote that, "We're not satisfied. We wanted to have a permanent policy change" that included a lien on landlords' property.

Phillips alleged that EBMUD directors "are more concerned with revenues than the lives and well-being of families" who live in units that are in danger of having their water service cut off.

According to Just Cause, many tenants in Oakland have had their water cut off even though they they've been paying their bills.

The moratorium on water shutoffs has allowed service to continue for most tenants in foreclosed properties, but one woman who spoke at today's meeting said she hasn't had any service since her water was shut off two days before Christmas.

EBMUD staff members immediately promised the woman that they will work with her to have her service restored as soon as possible.

EBMUD General Manager Dennis Diemer said the policy approved today expands the process of collecting delinquent water service charges so there's a better communication process between all parties and there's more time before service is terminated.

The policy has six steps.

The first step is that a collection notice is sent to a landlord and the second is that a 48-hour notice is sent a notice after 15 days if they don't address the problem. At that same time, the first notice is delivered to tenants and tenants are advised to contact the water district if the property is in foreclosure.

The fourth step is that EBMUD staff will check county recorders' records to see if the property is in foreclosure.

Step five is that a second notice is delivered to tenants after 15 days and they're again advised to contact the district if the property is in foreclosure.

Step six occurs in the event of a foreclosure or if the tenant contacts the district. The district then will delay delivery of the second tenants notice for two weeks, contact the landlord or lender to get payment, notify the local social service agency for assistance.

If payment isn't received, service will be stopped. However, the moratorium prevents any water shutoffs for at least the next two months.

EBMUD board member John Coleman said he doesn't think placing liens on landlords' properties is a good idea at this time.

Coleman also noted that three bills aimed at preventing shutoffs to water customers are pending in the state Legislature, so he thinks it would be premature to place liens now.

EBMUD serves 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.


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