Renters dodge paying water bills in DeKalb

DeKalb residents and businesses owe more than $71 million for old water bills, and the county is looking for ways to collect the money.

Renters account for the largest portion of delinquent bills, with $31.8 million unpaid, followed by residential property owners who owe $21.4 million, according to a presentation delivered to the DeKalb Commission on Tuesday. Condo owners have a 6.4 million balance.

The county usually disconnects water service when customers don’t pay their bills, but not always. Some customers in the past have been allowed to keep their water service until they could find money to make payments, but now the county is requiring them to set up payment plans.

“We’ve got those accounts, particularly with the condos and apartments, where they have gotten so out of hand,” said Commissioner Nancy Jester. “You can’t convince someone, if you’re not being consistent, that they’re being treated fairly.”

DeKalb Chief Operations Officer Zach Williams said the county will enforce unpaid bills more consistently, and the government may extend payment plans to encourage payment. The county also plans to hire a contractor for collections.

Part of the problem is that DeKalb allows renters to open water and sewer accounts, said Antrameka Knight, who oversees the county’s water and sewer billing. When they move out without paying their bills, their balance remains.

Many jurisdictions only allow property owners to have accounts, which makes delinquent bills easier to collect, Knight said.

“If you’re not dealing with the owner, I don’t see the problem being resolved,” said Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson. “If a tenant gets to a point where they can’t pay for this, they’re simply going to move to the next location.”

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