December 2 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 52  

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NEWS

Critics: new law means landlords could get shafted by students

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

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 said.

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 added.

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.

 

 

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