Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Our Dec. 2 Buhl City Council Meeting

We had a pretty good debate at our regular city council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 2, over an ordinance that requires all applications for utility service to be in the name of the property owner on record. In other words, renters will no longer contract with the city to have utilities in their name. The bill will be in the property owners name.

The ordinance passed on a 3 to 2 vote. I voted in favor of it and this is why:

In my mind, the reason for this change is simple: Too many renters are stiffing the city on utility bills and when they do, the city has little chance of recovering that money. In some cases, the bills are huge. Sure, there are homeowners out there who are not paying their utility bills as well. But there is a better chance of recovering the money from them, which I'll explain a little further down.

There were a couple of rental property owners at the meeting who argued against the ordinance on several different points. One argument was that by approving such a measure the city was more or less encouraging renters not to pay their utility bills because since the bills wouldn't be in the renters name they wouldn't feel responsible to pay them.

How is that the city of Buhl's problem? From my point of view, I don't care who pays the bill as long as someone is paying it. And if you own a piece of property in Buhl, if your name is on the deed, then you are ultimately responsible for making sure the utilities being used at that property are paid for. How you go about doing that is your business - and it is your business. The city of Buhl is not in the residential rental unit business.

The city is, so to speak, in the business of supplying utilities to homes and businesses at a cost to property owners. If a landlord or property owner is concerned about someones ability to pay a bill or their character then they need to deal with it by either not renting to that person or requiring a deposit to cover any costs related to an unpaid utility bill. That's what rental contracts are for. And it is the landlords job to enforce that contract, not the city of Buhl.

One option offered by a landlord at the meeting was that perhaps a better solution would be to have rental property owners sign a guarantee that they would ultimately be responsible for any delinquent bills but to keep the utility bill in the renters name.

Again, it is not the city of Buhl's job to encourage or motivate renters to pay their bills. That is the job of the landlord.

And in my opinion, this ordinance IS a guarantee that the landlords will be responsible for the bills. It really is a no brainer. I believe it is the responsibility of the property owner to deal with the headache of making their renters pay. Again, all they have to do is require a utility deposit from their renters before they move in. If the renter fails to pay their bill and a notice goes out, the landlord can tell them to pay up or move out. If they don't pay up, the landlord can use their deposit to pay the bill, kick them out and get a new renter.

Before the ordinance passed on Tuesday the property owner (or landlord) had the option of telling the renter to pay the bill and if they didn't, they could boot the renter out. Then the next day the property owner could get another renter and wipe their hands clean of the situation.

The city, on the other hand, is stuck with an unpaid bill and the headache of taking up valuable time to track down and try to extract cash from a deadbeat renter. The city would be out whatever amount of money the renter owed for utilities and would have little recourse but to turn the bill over to collections and hope for some recovery. Lets face it, in most cases that money is lost.

When the utility bill is the responsibility of the property owner the city has more options to get the money they are owed including putting a lien on the property. If the property owner sells their property, the city gets their money. Simple.

From a rental property owners perspective it would be in their best interest to make sure that any outstanding utility bill is paid and that's why this ordinance not only protects the taxpayers of Buhl but it also promotes responsible landlords. It encourages landlords to do background checks or credit checks to make sure the person or persons they are renting to are fiscally responsible individuals.

In the end, everybody wins. The landlord gets good renters and the city gets paid for the utilities the renter is using.

What do you think?


Bill said...

You titled your post our Dec 2nd Council meeting but yet you only posted one item that was discussed at the Dec 2nd meeting. A little discouraging I was hoping to find out about what happened at the meeting not just one topic.

Jesse White said...

Bill, I probably should have named this particular entry, “Highlights from the Dec. 2 meeting,” or something similar. Sorry to disappoint. However, most times I am not going to comment on an entire meeting and go through each item. I’m probably going to focus on what I consider to be the big item or items on the agenda that night. Other items we hit on Tuesday: We set the levy at $256,000 (about a 4.5 percent increase); set the budget; and approved the hiring of a supervisor and several workers for the skating shack and rink.

Bill said...

I do allong with the two rental property owners who were present at the meeting disagree with the decision of the three councelors who voted for the ordinance change. As a city you charge a deposit to people who wish to purchase utilities from you.You are in the business of selling utilities. To insure payment for these utilities you could have very easily done as neighboring communities have done and raised the utility deposit for renters. It should not be the property owners responsibility to collect or pay for something he is not recieving.I think the three of you jumped the gun a little rather than explore other options that may work better for eveyone. I got the feeling you were saying you don't want renters in Buhl sounds a little discriminatory to me. However this is just what you asked for it is what I think.

Jesse White said...

I see your point Bill but I don't agree with it. And I don't think I jumped the gun. I explained the reasoning behind my decision in the blog post and during the meeting and I stand by it. Also, if my motivation was that I didn't want renters in Buhl I would say that. I did not say that. In fact, I am a landlord myself. One thing you will learn about me in a hurry is there is no need to assume what the motivation is behind any of my decisions, I will tell you straight up why I do the things I do. I think in the long run this decision will benefit everyone involved - from the landlords to our city staff which is already stretched too thin.

JannaP said...

The solution to this is so simple... If the property owner is worried about being stuck with unpaid utility bills then they should raise their deposit amount. Why does the City need to be involved at all? When you go into the rental business you assume risk. It should ultimately be your risk, not the taxpayers. Do you really want the City involved in your business?

jbell310 said...

Good call Jesse, the City should not be responsible for paying to heat, light, and water someone else's property. Not your problem, price of doing business in the landlord world.