STPUD aids tenants who fall victim to landlords delinquency
It happened one day earlier this month – tenants of a local trailer park woke up one morning to discover that their water had been turned off.
It wasn’t their fault; the tenants paid their rent on time to the property owner, who in turn was responsible for paying the utility bills. But in this case he was seriously delinquent with his payments, forcing the shutoff by the South Tahoe Public Utility District.
STPUD doesn’t go to such extreme measures very often, according to District Information Officer Dawn Forsythe. And there have been recent changes in policy to ensure that tenants in multi-family dwellings are not surprised by sudden shutoffs in the future.
“Sometimes, we have no choice,” Forsythe said. “What it comes down to ultimately is a bill. Unfortunately, tenants are sometimes caught in the middle.”
The tenants at the trailer park had their water back on within 48 hours, as the owner came in and made payment arrangements with STPUD.
“But partly due to that incident, we’ve changed our policy a little bit,” said STPUD Customer Service Director Diane Noble. “After that case, we met with the County Public Health Department and worked out a way to give tenants some notice when a shutoff will occur. So when a shutoff is imminent, we have decided to give tenants three days notice to organize.”
The process of shutting off gas, power or water service to an apartment complex or business is more involved than one might think. In order for such a thing to happen, the STPUD board of managers must discuss the case at a regularly scheduled meeting, and then issue a shutoff order.
But such an order can only be issued after other avenues are exhausted.
“We send out a series of certified letters and notices (when an account is in arrears),” she said. “Then, after the board authorizes the shutoff, we still post a two-weeks’ notice for them to come in and set up a payment plan,” she said.
STPUD is generally open to making payment arrangements, especially where multi-family dwellings are concerned.
“We do tell tenants in these situations that we can accept payments on the account from anyone,” she said. “Tenants can get together and make payments on the bill, or even put the bill in their name, establishing their own service.”
But a delinquent utility bill at a large trailer park, for example, could run into thousands of dollars.
“We don’t give legal advice,” Noble said. “But in some rare cases, it might be wise to go out and get legal representation. Tenants should at least know what their options are.”
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