Township shifting responsibility for tenant water utilities to landowners

Wellington North Power no longer opening new accounts directly with tenants

KENILWORTH – Wellington North is putting landowners and landlords on the hook when tenants don’t pay utility bills for water and wastewater.

At a May 6 meeting, council supported a recommendation from township staff immediately requiring any new water/wastewater utility accounts to be opened solely with landowners – no longer with individual tenants.

According to a report from township CAO Brooke Lambert, allowing tenants to have individual accounts “may be convenient for the landlord,” but it has allowed monthly bills to go unpaid.

Wellington North Power – of which the township owns 97 per cent – bills for water and wastewater in Arthur and Mount Forest on behalf of the township.

“We feel it makes sense now to look at this so that we don’t get into a situation where the arrears could potentially grow and the township would be looking at writing off higher amounts related to the water and sewer billing and collections,” Lambert told council.

The changes follow conversations between the township and the utility company about revamping policies as the township grows.

Last fall staff began trying to resolve accounts that had fallen behind with a payment deadline, resulting in “many of the accounts … being reconciled,” Lambert wrote in her report.

When utility bills aren’t paid by tenants, the township can tack the outstanding cost onto a landowner’s tax bill.

“If those tenants do not pay, the township has, and will continue to have, the opportunity to put those arrears onto the tax bill – and that’s the landowner’s responsibility,” Lambert told council.

Landowners are “cut out of the process” and may not be aware of what’s happening in the background, Lambert said.

“So it’s really prudent to make sure the landowners are in the loop.”

Mayor Andy Lennox said some renters are exploiting a rule prohibiting power utilities from cutting power for nonpayment through winter months by not paying bills until disconnections begin in warmer months.

“The amount of dollars that have been outstanding relative to water and wastewater has been gradually climbing,” the mayor said, adding the township can’t cut people off from a supply of water, leaving the township without options “to collect.”

Mount Forest landlord Tom Markstahler told council costs and risks are being unfairly downloaded onto landowners, who will be stuck paying the bills and trying to collect outstanding payments.

He asked council to protect landlords by capping or suspending future water and wastewater fee increases.

“I find it concerning that landlords were never even informed, or even consulted of any proposed changes,” Markstahler said.

“There are many issues that need to be considered.”

Council heard about a recent anecdotal experience from Markstahler, in which he claims to have suffered “$20,000 in losses” after evicting someone.

“Now, the township has billed me for the tenant’s sewer/water fees retroactively back to August 2023 for approximately $900,” he said.

“Would council consider discounting the fee that the landlord’s paying?” Markstahler asked.

The mayor replied, “I think all options are potentially on the table, but certainly we’re not going to make that kind of decision on the fly today.

“I think we hear [the] pain you’re feeling loud and clear.”

“Well, it is; it’s a great deal of pain,” Markstahler said, going so far as to say he couldn’t put his son through school.

Already-established utility accounts will be gradually phased away from tenant responsibility toward landowners, unless an account is currently in arrears and unpaid.

Though a definitive timeline for transferring accounts has yet to be determined, the transition process is expected to begin this summer and be complete early next year.

Township staff are also reviewing servicing policies with Wellington North Power, with a report expected to return to council following the summer.