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New Landlord Scheme: Have L.A. Tenants Pay for Water!

April 24, 2015

water-conservation-logoThe landlord group, Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), is urging that the Mayor and LA City Council take action to have renters pay their own water bills. This would be a significant change given that for most tenants’ water costs are included in their rent.

Because it’s included in the rent, landlords claim that tenants have no incentive to conserve water, thus have little concerns about letting their faucets run and not reporting leaks. As a result, landlords say they are facing increased water bills.

However, the LA Department of Water and Power reports that the City has cut water use about 10% since early last year and is on track to comply with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s order to slash consumption by 20% by 2017.

Given that approximately 65% of LA residents are renters, these water conservation achievements could not have been obtained without significant participation of tenants throughout the City.

Nevertheless, we all have a responsibility to conserve water. This is a real crisis that requires tenants, landlords, homeowners and businesses to all do their part.

LandlordSchemingThe AAGLA plan appears to be nothing more than another landlord scheme, which clearly is an attempt to take advantage of our water drought crisis to shift financial responsibilities to tenants who can least afford to pay more.

This plan is disingenuous and opportunistic and is more about attempting an end-run around existing rent control laws and tenant protections in order to get more money from tenants.

Los Angeles has become the nation’s most unaffordable city for renters. Many renters are already paying unaffordable rents, paying upwards of 50% of their income to maintain a roof over their heads. This proposal would make our affordable housing crisis worse.

The landlords’ plan is essentially an arbitrary water allocation and billing practice referred to as Ratio Utility Billing System or “RUBS”

RUBS allows the landlord to charge for water use by some ratio like the number of residents in the unit, the number of bedrooms or perhaps by the square footage. All of these systems assume constant and equal water usage based on the arbitrary ratios. But, without sub meters for each unit, chances are that water use and SavePlanetcharges will be inaccurate, with some tenants ending up overpaying for their usage and some underpaying.

It is unclear whether tenants would be responsible for the cost of the landlord watering lawns, or operating water-inefficient washing machines, or cleaning the property common areas.

Plus, it would include the controversial use of a 3rd party bill collector, which would mean additional administrative costs to tenants above and beyond the water charges.

There have been problems where RUBS is currently being used. Some landlords have marked up the cost of water to their tenants creating a hidden rent increase in the guise of water billing.

The RUBS billing formulas bear no relationship to actual water usage.Landlord-Repairs

This system provides a substantial incentive to landlords to avoid making needed repairs. What Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) organizers have found in assisting renters is that landlords, in many cases, refuse to fix leaky toilets or faucets or repair broken pipes waste a lot of water. This proposal would increase landlords’ lack of interest in making needed repairs.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says he only supports tenants paying for their water usage if they have their own water meters.

“I’ve been supportive of individual meters so individuals could track their own use,” Garcetti said.

LA City Council Member Mike Bonin agreed, stating, “The only way to do it is with individual meters. As a drought-fighting tool, you need to have the use tied directly to the cost.”

SavethedropShowersCES believes that first there’s a need for an education and outreach campaign to tenants – in order to increase their involvement in conservation efforts.

Also, landlords should be required to make their apartments building water efficient by converting their lawns to drought resistant plants, installing energy/water efficient washing machines, and providing their units with low-flow toilets and faucets without passing those costs on to tenants. There should be stiff fines to landlords and increased rent reductions to tenants when landlords fail to make quality repairs to leaks in a timely manner.

The installation of sub meters in buildings could be studied, ensuring that tenants would be charged only for what they use. But there would have to be a corresponding reduction in rent to accurately compensate tenants the full amount of savings to landlords.


Story by Larry Gross

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