WINCHESTER — The city is trying to find solutions to delinquent utility bills through letters notifying both tenants and landlords of any past-due accounts.
Mayor Rex McIntire said the city has about 45 accounts that are considered delinquent, many of which also are rental properties.
“In many cases, these residents are paying their rent, but they are not paying their utilities,” McIntire said. “If the tenant moves out, the landlord becomes responsible, which isn’t really fair to them.”
McIntire said he has been discussing with the city attorney the legalities of notifying a landlord when a tenant becomes delinquent to prevent the landlord from being blindsided by charges.
When letters go out to landlords, they explain the situation and note that the landlord becomes liable for any unpaid utility bill should the tenant move out.
“It’s a courtesy to the landlords,” McIntire said.
While the city is aware many people have lost their job as a result of the pandemic, some of the tenants with delinquent bills had a habit of paying late or defaulting on their bills before the pandemic, McIntire said.
“We have compassion for people having trouble paying their bills, especially with COVID, but they have to work with us,” McIntire said. “If they can’t pay, we will set up a payment plan. We will work with them. We want to help them get caught up.”
The city already has sent out letters to all accounts that have past-due balances, explaining that the city is willing to help them with payment arrangements, McIntire said, noting the response has been underwhelming.
“We had two people who came in to get something set up,” he said. “These were people that lost their job during the pandemic and recently got them back.”
McIntire said six of the accounts — those who were not habitually late with their payments — were given a little help toward their bill after a donation was made to the city to help with some past-due accounts.
A woman donated $300 of her $600 stimulus check to the city to help people with their accounts.
“She contacted me last week and said ’ I don’t have to have this, so I want to help someone else who really needs it’,” McIntire said. “She wanted to remain anonymous. We chose people who have been making every effort to pay but have been having difficulty.”