Give Landlords Consideration

Steubenville City Councilman Scott Dressel is happy municipal officials have stepped up attempts to collect money from people whose utility bills have become delinquent.

Dressel is pleased the city is bringing in more money, of course. But it also means he shells out less.

Until about two years ago, city officials used an outside company to collect unpaid debts from utility customers. That did not work out well, so the city began doing its own collection work.

One change in the system has been to go after delinquent customers more expeditiously. Once a bill has been unpaid for 10 days after the due date, 14-day disconnection notices are sent out. Few bills go longer than two months past due.

Dressel likes that because it saves him money. He is a landlord and deadbeat tenants have cost him dearly in the past, because of a state law.

It makes landlords responsible for their tenants’ unpaid utility bills. He told a reporter he has paid thousands of dollars in delinquent utility bills.

Now, with city officials acting more quickly and decisively, “I’m no longer seeing $1,000 delinquent unpaid bills. They are significantly smaller, around $200,” Dressel said.

Some landlords include utilities in rent payments, avoiding the problem of tenants not paying for water and sewer service for long periods of time. Others who rent or lease apartments reason that it is better to let tenants pay directly for utilities.

But that can be costly, as Dressel noted.

Requiring landlords to take care of delinquent bills is in the interest of utilities, of course. People who own apartment buildings do not skip town in the middle of the night, leaving municipal utilities holding the (empty) bag.

But is the system fair to landlords who, after all, have no control over tenants who may pay the rent, but not the utility bills?

No, it is not.

Ohio lawmakers ought to take another look at the law. Landlords merit more consideration than they are getting in it.

By all means, hold those who fail to pay their utility bills accountable — just don’t burn landlords who usually are not even aware the bills are piling up.

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