New bill that seeks to protect families from water-service disconnection may impact landlords

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill seeking to prevent municipalities from shutting off water service due to non-payment of stormwater fees is under consideration this week  in the West Virginia House of Delegates. If passed, the bill would protect residents who have fallen behind on sewer bills from losing their access to running water. However, while this may provide a much-needed lifeline for some families, it raises potential logistical concerns for others.

Proposed by Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley, and explained during Tuesday’s meeting of the House Committee on Political Subdivisions by Committee Counsel Robert Akers, HB 4864, “Allows municipalities to impose a lien on property, but prohibits them from actually shutting off services for non-payment of a stormwater fee.”

“So if you don’t pay your stormwater fee, they cannot shut your water off,” Akers added. “But they can put a lien on your property.”

The obvious concern surrounding HB 4864 pertains to rental properties. While private lease agreements may transfer responsibility for utility payments from the property owner to the tennant – either residential or commercial – in the case of non-payment, the cause of remedy afforded by the bill solely impacts the property owner. The property owner would then be forced to rely upon civil measures to recover their losses from the tennant.

“The tennant wouldn’t have anything to put a lien against,” Akers said. “Maybe their personal property, or if they owned a car. […] The lease may pass responsibility off, but under this bill, the property is where the lien is going to attach.”

After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, and with numerous liability questions still left unanswered, the committee chose to postpone further discussion of the bill until their next scheduled meeting. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 4864 ase additional details are made available. 

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