Landlord law may not require bill responsibility

STEUBENVILLE – A landlord complained Thursday to the Jefferson County commissioners about being stuck paying large water bills for tenants who have moved, leading commissioners to seek a legal opinion about the county’s regulations.

John Synodinos of Wintersville said the county has a policy that any water account not paid within 60 days from the due date is considered to be delinquent. The county then sends a shutoff notice to the address, with the water being turned off seven days after the mailing if payment is not received.

Synodinos said he has had tenants who go to the county water office, make a payment or enter into a payment plan for the delinquent bill and become delinquent again with the bill increasing before they move out.

He said he has paid thousands of dollars in delinquent water bills at his rental properties. He said there is nothing in the county water regulations that allows for a customer to make partial payment and allow the unpaid amount to keep increasing.

Synodinos said there was a Jefferson County Common Pleas Court ruling years ago that stated the customer is responsible for the water bill.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said he can understand Synodinos’ frustration and will ask the county prosecutor’s office to render an opinion on the regulation.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said it is a complicated issue that affects delinquent tenants and bills being sent to landlords, who are the owners of the property.

County Commissioner David Maple said the commissioners want to know if the policy is correctly written.

Synodinos said the county is wrong in its interpretation of its own policy.

Maple said turning off water service can become a health issue to families living in a house.

Mike Eroshevich, interim director of the county water and sewer department, said the county’s policy states the bill remains with the owner of the property.

Gentile said the policy, as it is written now, gives tenants the incentive to allow the water bill to grow by allowing a partial payment.

In other matters, commissioners received a letter from the Cross Creek Township trustees stating they want a meeting to discuss damages to township roads during the Crestview-Belvedere sewer project outside Bloomingdale.

Eroshevich said the county will be holding a meeting next week with the contractor about unfinished restoration work now that the weather has improved. Graham asked that the township trustees be invited to the meeting to express their concerns.

Eroshevich said 255 homes have been connected to the sewer system. He said 87 homes have not been connected, and, of that amount, 45 homes have taken out permits to be connected. He said the deadline for connecting to the sewer system expired Tuesday and all homes, whether connected or not, will be sent a monthly bill. The county health department also will begin legal action to get the homes not connected hooked up to the sewer system.

Commissioners also gave the water and sewer department authorization to draw up a contract for the bulk purchase of water from Mingo Junction. The commissioners last week agreed to the costs offered by Mingo Junction and will buy bulk water from the village instead of Steubenville because the city increased its rate.

Commissioners also gave permission to county Engineer James Branagan to enter into an $18,129 contact with Gannett Fleming Engineering and Architects of Akron to design a retaining wall at a bridge on county Road 74. The bridge was closed years ago and a temporary bridge was installed. Branagan the design of the replacement bridge has been completed and he hopes to begin construction on the $2 million structure next year. The Federal Highway Administration is paying 80 percent of the construction cost, he said.

Commissioners also:

– Were informed the county’s property and liability insurance premium for the year through the County Risk Sharing Authority, an insurance consortium for counties statewide, decreased from last year. The premium dropped from $386,033 to $377,413.

– Approved the April attorney fees for indigent criminal defendants totaling $34,406.

– Approved a contract with Shelly and Sands of Rayland in the amount of $829,350 for the paving of the runway extension project at the county airport. The contact also calls for an asphalt overlay of the entire length of the runway.