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Landlord dilemma

Published June 08. 2010 05:00PM

An interesting situation has been presented to Lehighton Borough Council.

A landlord has complained that some of her tenants have not been paying utility bills, so the landlord is being held responsible.

The landlord explained that one tenant owed $1,100. She doesn't think it is fair that the landlord must pick up the tab for such deadbeats.

It's not the first time this complaint has been aired by landlords to the borough council. Last year a landlord who owns numerous apartment buildings shared the same complaint.

The borough owns and operates its own electric system, sewage system, water system, and municipal garbage collection. All these services are on a single, monthly utility bill.

When someone falls behind on the bill after a specified time period, electric service is supposed to be cut as per borough regulations.

There is also an ordinance in the borough which states that if tenants don't pay, the obligation is thrust onto the landlord.

There are two major points of contention.

The first one, a complaint by the landlord, begs for an answer why the tenant was allowed to accumulate arrears of $1,100 before electric was shut off.

Should the borough allow individuals to fall so far behind in their utility bills without taking action?

Obviously a bill of $1,100 means the utilities haven't been paid for months. It isn't fair to surprise the landlord with such a mountain of debt. Action should be taken before arrears reach this scale.

A second point is whether landlords should even be held responsible.

Actually, they should.

When a property owner falls behind on utility bills, a lien can be imposed on the property. When a tenant falls behind, the borough has no recourse to collect other than to go after the landlord or the landlord's property.

John Q. Taxpayer should not be expected to pick up the tab of those who don't pay their utility bills.

We understand there are a lot of residents without jobs, that many senior citizens live in Lehighton, and that the poverty rate is above the national average.

But there are certain financial obligations which can't be skirted and utility bills are among them.

In some towns, utility bills are automatically sent to the property owners. The landlord either adds them to the amount of rent or collects the amount that is owed from the tenant and remits it to the borough.

As stated above, the onus falls on the landlord when a utility bill isn't paid.

Since it shuffles all its utilities onto a single bill, Lehighton might want to begin sending those monthly bills to the landlords.

If this happens, it has to be understood that if a landlord requests that a tenant have electricity shut off for not paying the bill, that the borough immediately comply.

Typically landlord-tenant disputes aren't rectified by borough government.

With utilities, the entire burden eventually falls on the landlord. Therefore, the landlord deserves some protection. Otherwise, the taxpayers will be given the undeserved tab.

Ron Gower

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