Critics: new law means landlords could get shafted by students
By Dan Perry
Don’t want to pay your water bill? A new London city
council proposal says just skip town — your landlord
will foot the bill.
Mike St. Amant, city treasurer, said the new Municipal Act
(which came into effect Jan. 1, 2003) allows the treasurer
to add fees and charges imposed by the municipality to property
owners. The change comes in response to a reported $240,000
annual loss the city blames on unpaid water and sewer fees.
“This is an administrative collection issue we’re
bringing in. Nobody likes to be collected from when they’ve
never been collected from,” St. Amant said.
City landlords, including London Property Management Association
Vice-President Paul Cappa, called the proposed changes unfair. “I
think it’s unfair that the landlords should be held responsible
for somebody else’s debts; quite often, the person whose
name the utility account is in is not the landlord’s
tenant,” he said.
In many cases the tenant’s parents — as is often
the case with student rentals — grandparents or ex-spouses
are responsible for the account, Cappa explained. “A
landlord has no leverage over those people.”
“There is a nominal effort made to collect arrears.
Part of London Hydro’s (the billing agency) responsibility
as a city agent is to make the same collection effort [as a
collection agency]. But how hard are they going to pursue that
when they can just increase the landlords’ tax rolls
and collect 100 cents on the dollar?” Cappa asked.
St. Amant said he understands the landlords’ point of
view and he is confident they will understand his. “I’m
approaching this as a collection issue. There are some who
say this has nothing to do with owners, [but] we have an infrastructure
in place to serve the structure,” he said. “The
infrastructure remains if the [fees] are paid by the tenant
or the landlord.”
“We will do our best to collect from tenants. At the
point that we would’ve normally turned it over to a collection
agency, we will add it to the tax account,” St. Amant
Off campus mediation officer Glenn Matthews expressed concern
about the proposal. “When person X owes money, how anyone
could transfer that to person Y, how they can legally do that,
I don’t know,” he said.
There are several ways in which students could possibly feel
the impact if the motion passes, Matthews said. “Potentially,
either the landlords go and get more guarantors, so no one
could rent without a guarantor,” he noted. “Some
[landlords] may get out of the rental game altogether, which
could affect the amount of housing available.”
Both Matthews and St. Amant suggested landlords could make
more rents inclusive, which Matthews said would carry both
pros and cons. “The student knows what their exact costs
will be [with inclusive rent], but it’s kind of a disservice
to students. They lose the opportunity to save money,” he
St. Amant also noted that landlords may ask tenants to prove
they have paid their bills, as privacy laws prohibit the city
from divulging that information to landlords.