Shut-off lawsuit brings new law
A legal battle in Barre has resulted in a new law giving tenants the right to take over their municipal water accounts when their landlord fails to pay the water bill.
This helps ensure tenants can keep the water running, if they are willing to take over the bill, and it means the municipality gets paid. The new law, passed by the Legislature and headed to the governor, is the result of a legal lawsuit brought by a Barre resident who sued the city after her water was shut off because her landlord failed to pay the water bill. Brenda Brown claimed she should be allowed to appeal the shut-off and take over the bill.
The judge agreed the city policy must allow an appeal but suggested the Legislature needed to take up the question of whether tenants can put the water bill in their own name if they don’t own the property. The new law gives tenants that right. Under the law tenants can take over the water bill, when the building owner fails to pay, and subtract the water payment amount from their rent due. Tenants may also be required to pay past-due amounts up to one billing cycle.
It is not just a money issue. Access to water is a public health necessity. This is a win-win. Tenants can get their water, and the city or town gets paid.
The writer is a state senator for Washington County. The governor signed the legislation Thursday.
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