Baltimore City is getting ready to shut off the water of 25,000 people across the city, if the water bill is two months overdue. According to one article, at least one third of those who will lose water are 369 businesses that account for $15,000,000 of lost revenue, and the rest are homeowners and tenants. Low-income residents can apply for a one-time $161 credit on their water bill, if they meet certain requirements. Go here for more information. Also, there is a separate program for low-income senior citizens — go here for information on that program, which can discount your water bill by 39%.
What else can tenants do to protect themselves if their landlord hasn’t paid the bill? The first option would be to pay it yourself. You can go here to find out whether your bill is overdue, by entering your address into the search box, and pay the overdue portion. If you have an absentee/non-communicative landlord, this might be your best option. If you have a good relationship with your landlord, make sure you let him or her know the bill is overdue, and you expect it to be paid in a timely fashion. Whatever you decide, make sure you document all conversations and payments, in case you need to file for rent escrow in District Court later. (Link opens a PDF.)
The repercussions of this decision by our Department of Public Works are severe, and the decision was made with no public input. Here and here are two pieces on how people live when they don’t have water — a basic service we all need, regardless of where we live or income level. As human beings, we are dependent on water for the most basic of hygiene and cooking. The City needs to work with residents to make sure they don’t lose services — particularly renters, as the City requires the water bill to be in the property owner’s name.
The second issue to grapple with is the City’s tax sale to be held in May, where the City auctions off properties that have overdue property taxes and municipal liens, including overdue water bills. The Pro-Bono Resource Center and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service are holding workshops on what to do if your home is about to be auctioned because you have liens, taxes, or overdue water bills. There are two workshops left, and you can get more information on dates and locations here, and you must register.
Lastly, many residents went without water this winter for weeks, due to bust water pipes inside their homes and broken water mains. Until the City addresses these issues, I can’t see how shutting off someone’s water on top of what they had to deal with over the winter is even remotely equitable. Contact your City Council representative and let them know you demand more from your city, and that if the City can’t properly maintain its infrastructure, you shouldn’t bear the fallout of that. Our City Council needs to refocus its priorities onto its residents, and make sure our most vulnerable citizens are not without basic resources, like water.