In light of the recent announcement that the Department of Public Works plans to shut off water to 25,000 households, we, the Bristol House Tenant Association leadership would like to express our concerns with the ongoing increase in water charges that has not only affected homeowners of Baltimore City, but its apartment renters as well.
Since 2008 landlords have been provided with a legal license to charge excessive fees for sewage, trash removal, electric, gas, and water via the Residential Urban Billing System (RUBS) something called Ratio Utility Billing System. RUBS is a sub-metering billing system operated by a third party, normally an out-of-state company such as National Water and Power out of California or Yes Energy Management out of Colorado. The way this metering system breaks down water bills by unit doesn’t meter the actual water usage of each household or number, but rather, the ratio of water used based on unit size and the number of tenants. This doesn’t account for the fact that often we are being conscientious about our water use to reduce our bills.
Residents at the Bristol House Apartments, under Blue Ocean Management, LLC,, pay a hot water heating charge ranging from $7 to $27 (on average allocated bill) and/or a flat cold water charge ranging from $20 to $35 per month, depending on which of the two lease types you have. This is quite alarming for these reasons: The first reason is that these water charges do not generate a turn-off notice, which does not allow the tenant to seek assistance to pay the bill. Second, if the water bill is not paid the water bill can be deemed as rent, thus allowing the landlord to file a failure to pay rent against the tenant in hopes of acquiring a judgement that could lead to an eviction of the tenant. Lastly, sometimes a soaring water bill is due to landlord neglect, such as a water leak. Because of the difficulties in getting justice through the courts, this leaves us out of luck, bearing the burden of the crippling water bill as well as the substandard conditions that caused it.
A two bedrooms, three-story home in Middle River (the home of a friend of mine) costs $59 every three months to service two adults; however, this is because of a water leak. This homeowner’s actual bill is normally $40 (every three months) doing the summer with daily use to water for a front yard flower garden and a backyard vegetable garden. This questions the cost to renters for water use. If a two bedroom, three-story home in Middle River cost $40 to service two adults every three months; how is it possible that a two bedroom apartment in Baltimore City cost in upwards of $62 to service two adults for one month?
The billing methods being used by landlords prevents tenants of apartment units from having any control over their water bill, the inability to determine what may be causing an increase in the billing in order to make changes in their water use habits, and allows landlords to forward an unrealistic monthly water billing cost to tenants without providing the resident with any documentation to show the actual water bill and what percentage, if any, that the landlord has taken responsibility for. This is part of a trend in which landlords are increasingly shifting as many costs as they can on to renters. In Baltimore City, where we have about 7,000 rental evictions and 150,000 renters unable to pay rent at one point or another in any given year, water bills, and the inability for renters to have any recourse to address them, is too much to bear.
Felicia A. Lockett, Liaison
Bristol House Tenant Association