31 August 2010
Eighteen years ago state law required every water purveyor to install a water meter as a condition of new water service. That law also required water suppliers to install water meters on existing service connections within a specific timetable, but in all cases by January 1, 2025. No law mandated metering or submetering of individual units in multi-unit residential buildings.
This year, the Sierra Club became the sponsor of AB 1975 (Fong), a bill that would require separate meters or submeters for multifamily properties newly constructed on and after January 1, 2013. According to the sponsor, the purpose of the bill is to have residential tenants conserve water as a result of having a separate meter or submeter to the rental unit.
The bill sounds innocuous. That could not be farther from the truth.
The apartment industry has been quite active in the bill from the beginning. AACSC and the Apartment Association of Orange County have stood out from the crowd, so to speak, because our associations have analyzed the bill in a practical, operational, and legal short- and long-term viewpoint. Now, the bill:
Every property manager and landlord should be extremely concerned about this bill because in large part, it is precedential and in our opinion sets the stage for additional legislation affecting existing rental housing stock. Let’s start out with the most objectionable provision of the bill:
- NO LANDLORD OR MANAGER COULD SEPARATELY CHARGE FOR WATER OR SEWER SERVICE.
The next thought would be: if a landlord cannot charge for water and sewer fees is it possible that the tenant will conserve in water consumption? Of course not! We would be forced to give these utilities away for free.
Admittedly the bill only applies to newly constructed units. However, expect the sponsors to return next year and ask the legislature to approve a similar bill to apply to all existing multifamily properties.
The bill also permits public and private water purveyors, of which there are thousands in our state, to adopt and implement their own program for the use of water meters or submeters. We have objected to this provision because landlords could face an unbelievable patchwork quilt of laws. If this is the case, what is the purpose of AB 1975? This is contrary to longstanding state law that requires a uniform building code.
There are many other aspects to the bill, which we expect to change during the last month of session for the year.
There are several interest groups involved in this bill. The Western Center on Law and Poverty wants a comprehensive legislative measure that would apply to existing and new housing stock. The issues they want to address would affect all landlords, which include:
- Prohibiting a landlord from charging a fee to separately bill for water and sewer charges;
- A right of a tenant to require the landlord to test the meter or submeter without charging the tenant for that test;
- Barring the landlord from “soaking the tenants” for water and sewer charges;
- Prohibiting the landlord from charging base water rates;
- Allowing the tenant to inspect the billing statements;
- Mandating that the landlord provide a copy of the water billing statements over the past year to new tenants;
- Prohibit the landlord from including the water and sewer charge as rent, which would not allow a landlord to seek an unlawful detainer for the nonpayment of water or sewer charge;
- Give the tenant no less than 21 days to pay the water and sewer charge.
AAGLA is proposing the bill to be amended to include:
- Capping late fees to $10;
- Giving the tenant 10 days to pay the bill;
- Requiring the landlord to maintain records that could be subject to inspection by the tenant;
- Providing the tenant with a detailed billing statement.
The bill is pending on the Senate floor. Despite the numerous unanswered questions and diverse opinions of interest groups we expect the bill to be sent to the Governor for his signature. Unquestionably, we will continue to remain OPPOSED to the measure because of the number of objectionable and adverse requirements of the bill that could easily be applied to existing multifamily rental units.
Ron may be reached at:
or you can call him at (916) 447-7229.