Water shut-off prompts meeting

Property owner’s experience shines a light on how district notifies its customers before turning off taps

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comSeptember 25, 2012 

Harvey Hunt was working with a cleaning crew preparing his Templeton rental for a new tenant on a recent afternoon when suddenly the unit’s water turned off.

“I was down there working with paint on me,” he said. “I had no idea.”

The problem: Hunt says the Templeton Community Services District never contacted him — the property owner — about the impending shut-off.

“We were not aware of the shut-off notice posted to the tenant until it was found later in the tenant’s trash,” Hunt wrote in a letter to the district’s board of directors.

Hunt said he did, however, receive a district notice by mail saying his tenant’s bill was overdue, but he said such a notice is common for landlords.

Hunt’s experience served as a reminder to the district last week that it must use all methods — by phone, personal contact, mail and posted notice — to notify its customers whose bills are overdue before shutting off the tap.

The reminder played out at a special meeting Sept. 18 where Hunt appealed to the district’s board of directors after district employees shut off the water meter at the rental properties.

“I think all people ought to be aware your water can be shut off without notice — it happened to me,” Hunt told The Tribune.

Hunt’s case also prompted the board to consider changing the district’s rules at a future meeting to say that a property owner needs to be contacted about a shut-off notice when the customer can’t be reached.

Board Vice President Judith Dietch said that discussion could come by the end of the year, adding that there are always benefits in making the rules more clear.

According to Hunt, the district gave notice to the tenant via a posted door hanger earlier this month about the water being turned off. It came several days after Hunt put the tenant’s water account in his own name, because the tenant was moving out. The door hanger was just left on the rental property, where Hunt doesn’t live.

Had the district followed its own rules, Hunt would have been made aware of the impending shut-off by three other ways that are required to notify customers.

When the water was turned off at the rental, Hunt said he walked over to the district offices to see what the issue was. He offered to pay a partial bill to get the water back on for his work crew, but Hunt said district employees, including General Manager Jeff Hodge, argued with him, saying Hunt would need to pay the bill in full. Hodge could not be reached for comment.

Last week, the board held a meeting on the issue, at Hunt’s request, and agreed the district’s procedures weren’t followed. The board agreed to turn the water back on and to give Hunt’s prior tenant 60 days to pay the bill. Hunt agreed that he’d be responsible for the bill after those 60 days.

Board member Greg O’Sullivan said he believes the dispute shouldn’t have risen to the board’s level because district employees have enough leeway to resolve customer service issues.

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