Property owner fights policy requiring him to pay tenant's bills

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

METROPOLIS, Il.--Stuck with someone else's bills, while the person who racked up all those charges gets away no questions asked.
That's what a local landlord fears could happen to him, and he's demanding changes to prevent that from happening. The Metropolis, Illinois city code states landlords, not tenants are primarily responsible for payment of electricity, water, sewage, and garbage bills.
Meaning if a tenant skipped town, the property owner is stuck with the bill.
The controversial code hadn't been enforced up until recently, as you can imagine landlords want major changes.

The City Attorney told Local 6 state statue puts responsibility on the property owner. In fact, even allows the city to put a lien on the property until all the bills are paid.  He said Metropolis never took matters that far.
But they are cracking down on unpaid utility bills, one landlord told Local 6 he believes cracking down is fine, but that the city's going after the wrong people.

"I don't ask anybody to pay my bills, so I don't understand why the city thinks they're right to ask me to pay somebody else's bills," Atkinson said.

Up until recently Luckie Atkinson didn't even know about the city policy, that could bring about bad luck for property owners.

"Whoever the tenant was they can move to another house and they can create another bill...so the bill maker gets to move on and on and on, and the landowner's are left holding the bag," Atkinson said.

While it hasn't happened to Atkinson yet, he fears it could, and asked the folks at city hall about it.

He was shown city codes that've been in place for years but just recently enforced. the city attorney says it's all in an effort to raise money.

"They're not going to the person who skips out on his bills and skips out on his electric bill. They're going to the person who pays their rent pays taxes pays all the utilities that's who they want to pay," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said getting the city to change policy might not be easy, but he's willing to give it a shot before he's stuck paying someone else's bill.

The city attorney tells me the city is listening to Atkinson and other landlords about this issue.
They're considering several alternatives such as; raising the utility security deposit for renters,
providing landlords specific language to write into their leases to provide some protection,
and shutting off unpaid utilities quicker.
The Metropolis Ordinance committee will meet to address these concerns on Tuesday at one o'clock.

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