SB 411

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Water fights, billing procedures and disclosure and eviction issues are amended into one bill seven days before the State Legislature adjourns for the entire session.

Senator Wolk decided to re-introduce a bill that could have profound impact on the manner in which landlords bill tenants. Tenants could have at least 15 new “rights” if SB 411 is signed into law. Last year Senator Wolk’s SB 750, an antilandlord water submeter bill, was soundly rejected by the Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee on a 3-8 vote. Inter estingly, she decided to gut one of her bills with just seven days left in this year’s session.

The most egregious and objectionable parts of last year’s bill were retained in SB 411.

Like last year’s bill this new bill will be touted as a water conservation measure, when in reality the bill is an anti-landlord price and eviction control bill, laden with overly punitive and unprecedented landlord penalties. The bill:

• Allows tenants to intentionally delay the payment of their water bill.

• Denies landlords the ability to evict tenants who fail to pay their own water bill.

• Requires landlords to pay the fines and penalties assessed against tenants who violate water waste and overuse rules.

• Artificially limits administrative billing cost pass-throughs to tenants.

• Penalizes landlords for failing to address tenants’ water complaints within a specific timeline—even when the complaints are frivolous, the problems are caused by tenants, or it is impractical to remedy the problem within the established timeframe.

• Exempts low-income tenants from paying for water if the rental housing has a federal or state loan or guarantee.

Landlords in this case, will be forced to pay for all of the tenant’s water usage.

• Creates new causes of action allowing ten ants to lodge frivolous lawsuits, and utilize new litigation tactics to defend against or delay unlawful detainers.

The only aspect of SB 411 that is truly related to water conservation is the requirement to install water submeters in newly constructed apartments—a provision we don’t oppose.

So, why do we oppose the bill?

• Evictions for failure to pay a water bill is barred. The bill reverses the long standing right of landlords to evict tenants who fail to pay their water bill. Why should tenants be permitted to continue renting a dwelling if they do not pay their bill? Why should landlords have to sue their tenants to collect the water dues? How does eliminating the consequence of eviction promote water conservation during a time of drought? (See 1954.213 of SB 411.)

• Artificial caps on administrative fees. The bill artificially caps administrative fees for billing services that can be passed through to tenants without similar caps on billing companies. This means landlords will be required to cover a large portion of all adminis tra tive billing costs. (See 1954.205 of SB 411.)

• Fines or penalties for water-wasting tenants must be paid by landlords. Water fines and penalties are being enforced by water companies against those who overuse or waste water during this time of drought. Under this bill, landlords will be forced to pay the water fines and penalties of water wasting tenants with no ability to pass those costs to the tenant. (See 1954.208 of SB 411.)

• Artificial timeframe to address tenant complaints. Requires landlords to address all tenant complaints relating to water “or any other problem” within 14 days, and exposes landlords to lawsuits and liability for noncompliance even when problems are created by the tenants, the complaint is frivolous, or it’s impracticable or impossible for the landlord to respond within the artificially established timeframe. More importantly, we have seen no studies or reports that show that landlords are not responding to water maintenance or repair issues in a timely fashion. The failure to fully correct any alleged water issue, no matter how small, would permit the tenant to initiate a lawsuit, stall an eviction due to a non-payment of rent, and pay no more than fifty cents a day for ALL the water the tenant wants to use. (See 1954.210 of SB 411.)

• Mandatory writing response to all questions and concerns. The bill requires landlords to respond to any and all tenant questions and concerns in writing, even when the concerns are frivolous, illegitimate, or submitted to harass the landlord. Failure to respond properly will give rise to eviction defenses and lawsuits. (See 1954.206 of SB 411.)

• Frivolous litigation and eviction defenses. Every aspect of this bill is subject to a lawsuit, and creates new eviction defenses and unlawful detainer delay tactics.

The bill will not help us out of the drought.

The measure is about increasing burdens on landlords, protecting tenants from eviction when they don’t pay their water bill and providing new causes of action to sue landlords.

Ron Kingston can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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