Water stays on, profits go down the drain

A Winnipeg landlord is worried his rental property’s profits will go down the drain because of the way the city collects outstanding water bills.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/01/2022 (393 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg landlord is worried his rental property’s profits will go down the drain because of the way the city collects outstanding water bills.

Richard Kippen is facing an added charge of $1,761.14 on his next property tax bill for water fees unpaid by a tenant, a city letter provided to the Free Press shows.

The tenant must pay by mid-February, or else Kippen is on the hook.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Richard Kippen is a landlord who is on the hook for a tenant's unpaid water bill.

While renting out properties is not his full-time job, Kippen said he makes a profit of about $250 per month by renting out the house involved, after mortgage, tax, insurance and other costs are covered.

That makes the penalty relatively steep, he said.

“I don’t have the resources of a giant corporation to back me up. I don’t have the financial resources to eat up a $1,700 loss… The idea of having to be a person who is jumping through hoops to collect money for a third party is outrageous,” said Kippen.

The property owner argues the onus to collect the payment directly from the renter should be on the city, as the service provider.

“I have not benefited from this water in any way… I would like the city to take ownership of this and leave the onus on the person who opened the account,” said Kippen.

The Free Press is not identifying the tenant or the home’s location.

“I don’t have the resources of a giant corporation to back me up. I don’t have the financial resources to eat up a $1,700 loss… The idea of having to be a person who is jumping through hoops to collect money for a third party is outrageous.”
– Landlord Richard Kippen

The city policy to bill landlords for outstanding water bills as a last resort has been in place for years. More recently, however, the city promised that it will not cut off access to water during the pandemic.

That means the charges could potentially escalate to much higher levels, creating even bigger penalties for landlords, said Kippen.

“The expectation is that, no matter what the bill becomes, I’m still expected to pay. This doesn’t seem fair or equitable,” he said.

In his case, the water bill hasn’t been paid for about six months.

While he could sue or evict the tenant, Kippen said he’s reluctant to do so, especially as the cost of living rises and makes it more difficult for renters to pay their bills.

“I have not benefited from this water in any way… I would like the city to take ownership of this and leave the onus on the person who opened the account.”
– Richard Kippen

“The burden is still put on me to… try to collect this (or) do the steps of evicting the tenant (which) doesn’t serve either of us… I would like (the policy) to be amended, (so) that the city takes some level of responsibility for collecting their bills,” he said.

A request to interview Winnipeg water and waste officials was not granted Thursday. In an email, the city confirmed it will attempt to collect outstanding charges from tenants, though “the landlord is ultimately responsible for all unpaid utility charges on their property.”

“We encourage landlords to try to collect this money from their tenant(s),” wrote spokesperson Lisa Marquardson, noting landlords could seek help to do so through small claims court, the Manitoba Residential Tenancies Branch and private collection agencies.

Prior to the pandemic, the city could turn off water for accounts with past-due payments of $100 or more; were not paid within 70 days of the billing date; and were not subject to other approved payment arrangements, Marquardson noted.

However, all water turn-offs are currently suspended as a result of the pandemic, she noted.

“We encourage landlords to try to collect this money from their tenant(s).”
– spokesperson Lisa Marquardson

“The city made this decision as the health and safety of our residents is a priority, and access to water allows for proper handwashing and hygiene and can help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Marquardson wrote.

Coun. Brian Mayes, who leads council’s water and waste committee, said there is an onus on landlords to be aware of all utility rules, including those that could see them wind up paying tenants’ water bills.

“That’s been the law for a long time. I think landlords would know that,” said Mayes.

However, the city’s decision not to shut off a person’s water during the pandemic is worthy of further discussion, Mayes said, adding the repercussions should be clearly communicated to landlords.

“If the liability can now be much bigger than in previous years, we probably should debate that, talk about that. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do (to change it) but at least landlords should be aware of that,” said Mayes.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Kippen's letter from the city of Winnipeg stating he's facing an added charge of $1,761.14 on his next property tax bill for water fees unpaid by a tenant.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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