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Article published April 29, 2013
Zelie OKs utility deposit hikes
ZELIENOPLE — Borough council, by a vote of 6-1 Monday night, approved an increase to its utility deposits for electric and water services and to give landlords notice of their tenants’ delinquencies. Utility deposits will increase from $10 each for water and electric to $150 for electric and $50 for water service for all new renters beginning July 1. Those currently renting will not be required to pay the new higher deposit. Landlords now will get copies of delinquent utility bills of their renters for the first 90 days. If the delinquency continues after 90 days, the bills and other fees would then become the responsibility of the landlord. The utilities are shut off after 90 days of delinquency except during the winter. Councilman Russ Robertson voted against the ordinance. Although he didn’t have a problem with the increased deposits and other provisions, he voted against the ordinance because it didn’t go far enough, he said. Robertson cited inconsistencies he believed exist in the ordinance and the borough’s code that needed to be corrected. One of the examples he gave is that there is no requirement that the borough even collect its delinquent bills. Tom Murray, who with his son operates the Murray Agency, a property rental business, lauded the council’s efforts on addressing landlords’ concerns over the initial draft of the ordinance. The first proposal put the entire delinquency burden on the landlords and did not given them any notice about which of their tenants was delinquent. “I think the committee has done a wonderful job of addressing all of the concerns of the landlords,” said Murray. Last fall, about 30 landlords voiced their opposition of the original ordinance that proposed placing responsibility for all delinquent water and electric bills on the property owners and managers. This ordinance came about because council told the borough staff to come up with a solution to the borough losing revenues from renters who skipped on their delinquent utility bills. Landlords were vehemently against that initial draft because they were unaware of delinquent renters until being notified of delinquencies after 90 days. They had suggested the borough look to increasing deposits rather than putting all the responsibility for delinquencies on the landlords.