Marion authorizes ordinance for landlord utility liability

The Marion city commissioners Monday directed City Attorney Dan Baldwin to write an enabling ordinance that would lead them into a second home-rule ordinance to hold landlords liable for tenants’ delinquent utility bills.

As might be expected, Jim Davis, who has attended city meetings with other landlords for the past month, said he didn’t think landlords should have to pay city accounts that happened to be incurred by people who rent from them.

The landlord liability has been the city standard in the past, but a Kansas legislative decision to hold landlords harmless for all but electric bills has required cities to reconsider the rules.

Baldwin said the city also could have followed the state’s lead to exempt landlords of responsibility for things such as water bills, but hold them accountable for electricity.

Another city option, he said, would be to require an increased deposit for city utilities, but it would have the effect of penalizing the majority of Marion residents who own homes.

Mayor Martin Tice said, “I guess there is no way we could charge an increased deposit for renters only?”

Baldwin said, “I would not recommend that.”

City Clerk Linda Holub said some suggestions have been for a higher reconnect fee for persons whose utilities have been stopped for nonpayment.

Commissioner Larry McLain said the problem with that is that some delinquent renters “already will have skipped.”

McLain asked Davis if it isn’t true most rents are collected at the beginning of a month, implying that landlords could pay delinquencies because they would have already gotten their money.

Davis replied that this would be true if the renter also hadn’t skipped out on the landlord.

He said the renter has paid by the first of the month if it’s “a good renter, yes. Otherwise, I’m searching for them by the 10th, and possibly on the 15th and the 20th, too, just like you guys.”

Davis said the last time this happened he received a bill for $300 from the city on utilities that had already been disconnected for a couple of weeks while he was still trying to find the renter.

Davis suggested the city might have been more helpful by contacting him immediately when the utilities were disconnected.

“You should take care of your accounts just like we have to take care of ours,” David said. “You have a lot more resources to collect than a landlord does.”

City Administrator David Mayfield said he has had five or six landlords who actually have had to end up paying bills.

Commissioner Jim Crofoot said the credit black mark with the city stays with the renter, making it difficult for him or her to get utilities again-and not with the landlord who pays the bill.

McLain, in making the motion for landlord responsibility, said he wished “everybody would just pay their bills on time.” But, he said it is also true that landlords have been under the existing system for some time.

“What we have to do,” he said, “is nail these people before they get too far.”

The commissioners approved a $3,405 contract presented by Street Superintendent Marty Fredrickson with Liquid Engineering out of Montana for divers to clean the city’s large water tower and clearwell.

Fredrickson said the company will provide a video of the cleaning that can be used in state compliance reports.

He added that the divers themselves will be treated with chlorine to prevent water contamination, and that water service won’t be disrupted.

The commissioners approved Mayfield seeking Homeland Security grant funds for 500 residential smoke detectors at $7,500 administered by the Kansas Highway Department. The city would need $750 in matching funds.

Mayfield said the Marion Fire Department would take applications from city residents and residents of fire district served for the smoke detectors.

Mayfield said insurance for the fire department was overestimated by $1,459, so that money is available for the match.

Police Chief Michel Soyez also was authorized to move forward on seeking a local law enforcement block grant.

McLain said Mayfield and Public Works Director Harvey Sanders should look at sources for lower electrical rates while they are looking into a new contract with Westar Energy to replace the current one that expires in July 2005.

The commissioners discussed alliances of cities with generating plants that are marketing electricity, and a possible future where Westar may be only the transporter of electricity rather than the generator of it.

Westar practices of base year-around rates on peak usage periods from July to September were considered as something that needed improvement.

The commissioners approved paying warrants for $6,487.91.

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