Council’s water line mandate: A solution in search of a problem
To the editor:
The Fairfield City Council is considering a bill which would require that all apartment buildings have separate water meters and stop boxes for each rental unit. (A stop box turns the water supply off and on for the building.)
The Fairfield Water Department has been having trouble collecting payments from some tenants who live in units with separate meters, but which share the stop box with other units. The water department can’t turn off the water to the non-paying tenants without also turning it off to the paying tenants.
Barbara Bloom at the water department told us that their loss through this problem is about $1,000 per year. The council voted 5-1 on the first reading, Nov. 12, that requiring separate meters and stop boxes for all units would be an appropriate solution.
We are landlords, and have had two apartment buildings for the past 15 years, each of which have only one meter and stop box. We, not the tenants, pay the water bill for each building, and always on time. An established local plumber estimates that it would cost us between $2,000-$4,000 or more to install separate meters and stop boxes for each of our units. We have seven units total, so this could cost us $10,000-$20,000 or more.
We would have to pass at least some of this loss onto our tenants, and that would be a hardship for many of them.
The council’s proposed solution would, in effect, force landlords to hand money over to plumbers, at the expense of the tenants, to fix a fiscal problem, not a physical problem. It would push rents up and housing quality down, as landlords might then not have the resources to make other repairs. If new meters and stop boxes were required for 125 rental units in Fairfield, this would be a half million dollar solution to a thousand dollar problem.
Water superintendant Carl Chandler offered an excellent alternative solution. He suggested and we fully agree, that the water bill of any multi-unit building which has only one meter and stop box, should remain in the name of the landlord only. The people at the water department told us they would be happy with this arrangement also.
Collecting from the tenants should be the landlord’s problem only, not the water department’s problem. Then, it would be the landlord’s choice to break out the building into separate water services.
It is quite reasonable to require separate services for all new construction, but in the case of existing buildings, simply requiring the landlord to be responsible for the building’s water bill is the fairest, most expedient solution.
– Dorothy Drees and
Richard Hulley, Fairfield