Landlords pack Fulton City Hall to oppose proposed liability ordinance

A proposed Fulton ordinance that would make landlords jointly liable for their renters’ utility bills drew ire from about 30 rental owners and property managers, who packed the Utility Board’s Monday meeting so full it flooded into the more spacious council chambers.

Their alternative solutions varied, but the overall response to the ordinance, intended to help cut the $170,000 annual loss the city eats from both delinquent renters and landlords, was nearly unanimous: landlords shouldn’t be held responsible for other peoples’ bills.

The Fulton Sun reported the bill was first discussed at a Utility Board meeting in February. The board made no decision for recommendation to the council then and only viewed a preliminary draft, but it would allow landlords to see when their properties were at risk of losing utilities but make them jointly responsible for delinquent bills.

Utilities Superintendent Darrell Dunlap said discussion on the bill came when reviewing the city’s shutoff policy while looking for ways to minimize loss on bills when renters “just disappear on us.” Currently about 43 percent of housing units in city limits are rentals.

“The problem came in when the renter has bad debt, when we have to turn off utilities because they cannot pay,” Dunlap said. “You start seeing conflict there. Our landlord letter worked fine as long as people paid their bill, but not when they left.”

Director of Administration Bill Johnson said issues arose with landlords who “very consciously” left utilities in tenants’ names after their renters moved to avoid financial responsibility.

“That’s not right, so we worked and came up with the idea (for the ordinance),” Johnson said. “The way it’s working is those in the room who pay on time are picking up the slack. I don’t think it’s a done deal, that’s why the Utility Board have the item for discussion and why we’re looking at a number of alternatives. That’s why we’re here, to discuss it and form a plan for something that’s fair to both sides, because right now (without any changes) I’m seeing the city is getting the short end.”

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