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Tenants dry after city turns off their taps

April 02, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Candice Craig found out last week how important water is after the city of Hagerstown temporarily cut off water to 36 apartments, including hers, because her landlord was nine months behind in paying the water bills, city officials said.

The water was turned off March 26 because Deerhaven Investments Inc. owed the city $17,268 in water and sewer bills for 36 apartments at 19 properties, Hagerstown Finance Director Al Martin said. Craig rents one of those apartments.

The water was turned back on last Friday morning after a Deerhaven representative paid the city $8,089, Martin said.

It is the city's policy to turn off a utility when a customer falls a few months behind in payments, Martin said.

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The tenants whose taps were dry were told they could try to get assistance from the Community Action Council.

CAC Director David Jordan said the agency heard from about 10 tenants, who spoke with the housing counselor about immediate needs as well as what recourse they might have with the landlord. He said some were referred to organizations that provided bottled water, particularly to tenants with children.

In addition, Jordan said "we apprise folks of what their rights are" in such situations. He said the tenants' options, such as putting rental fees in an escrow account, require going through the court system. "That takes a couple of weeks," he said. "It doesn't happen overnight."

Deerhaven referred calls about the bills to Nick Pittas, company chief executive officer.

Pittas was unavailable for comment Monday and Tuesday.

While there is no fine or late fee for delinquent bill payments, Martin said Deerhaven has been assessed shut-off and turn-on fees for each building affected.

When Craig woke up Wednesday morning in her apartment in the 100 block of South Prospect Street she discovered she had no water. That meant she could not wash dishes, shower or do other tasks that require water, she said.

"It was frustrating. It made me realize how important water is," she said.

On Thursday evening her father, Roger Craig, paid the $913.44 water and sewer bill for the building so the water could be turned on, Craig said.

On Wednesday night, Erika Ganoe, Craig's upstairs neighbor, found out water service had been turned off when she tried to flush the toilet and it did not flush, Ganoe said.

Ganoe and her fianc drove to his brother's house in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., to take a shower, she said.

Mayor William M. Breichner said the city notified the property owner, but not the residents, that the water would be turned off. It was the property owner's responsibility, not the city's, to warn residents, Breichner said.

It was unfortunate the city had to temporarily cut off water service, but when a utility customer does not pay bills, the city has little choice but to take that action, Breichner said.

Staff writer Tamela Baker contributed to this story.

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