Forest Park is about to turn off the tap on property owners’ option to have their tenants billed directly for water service.
Following discussion at the Jan. 25 village council meeting, Mayor Anthony Calderone directed village staff to prepare a recommendation to eliminate the internal policy that allows property owners to have water bills mailed directly to tenants. The policy affects only properties with a single occupant, such as a single-family home that is being rented or a commercial property housing a business operated by someone other than the property owner.
The recommendation is expected at the Monday, Feb. 8 meeting. Calderone said he does not foresee the need to revise the ordinance but allowed that possibility.
Under the current ordinance, property owners are ultimately responsible for payment of water bills. However, village staff members currently pursue those who have not paid their water bills and negotiate payment plans, including tenants who have assumed that responsibility from their landlords.
“It’s not the money, it’s the time and effort it takes for staff,” Calderone said in stating his support for making the change. “We want to be accommodating but how far does it go?”
In response to a question from Commissioner Dan Novak, Village Administrator Tim Gillian explained that water bills outstanding for over 90 days amount to approximately $90,000, the majority of which is owed by a closed industrial property that experienced a water leak that went undetected. Gillian added that the property owner is making an effort to pay the bill.
All commissioners supported the change with Novak stating the village “needs to protect our investment” and Commissioner Joseph Byrnes suggesting the property owner incorporate the water billing into the lease.
Commissioner Rachell Entler expressed concerns over providing landlords and tenants with sufficient notice of the change, asking if the change would take effect. Calderone opposed waiting until a lease expired but assured her that “ample notice” would be provided.
Commissioner Tom Mannix, while not opposing the change, raised concerns about renewal of senior discounts and suggested the disconnect and reconnect rates be reviewed, especially regarding industrial properties.
Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz acknowledged that property owners are not required to reapply annually for the senior citizen discount but said the discount is cancelled when the property changes hands.
“To my knowledge, we have not shut off any industrial users recently,” Calderone said, regarding the disconnect and reconnect rates.
Gillian pointed out that a property cannot be transferred until any outstanding bills are paid.
“We’re going to get our money,” Calderone added. “But the lion’s share is single-family homes being rented and two-flats.”
Mannix also complimented the “compassionate” language in the ordinance and how the village tries to avoid disconnecting water service for nonpayment of bills if the delinquency is caused by hardship or extenuating circumstances, which led Calderone to note that village staff members are in the processing of contacting all those with outstanding water bills to notify them that financial assistance is available through the Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County.