In an effort to end this practice, Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery has proposed an ordinance that, if passed, would require individual water meters to be installed in all newly constructed apartments and condominiums.
Lowery was inspired to create the ordinance after the tenants of Garden Walk Condominiums in Raleigh were forced to evacuate their homes due to the homeowner association failing to pay the property's $30,000 water bill.
"Some people lost everything," Lowery said. "If they owned their condominium, they lost it, because people were not allowed to move back in. People broke into the apartments, stole the copper wiring, folks' clothes, all because the water bill wasn't paid. My ordinance would require that any new construction would have individual water meters, so that this will never happen again."
Tenants of apartment complexes and condos with master water meters typically have their monthly water usage combined with other tenants' usage and allocated into their monthly rent.
Memphis Light, Gas and Water President Jerry Collins said about two-thirds of all apartment complexes in the city have master meters. Collins supports Lowery's proposal, and he said certain apartment complexes are already installing individual water meters at newly built residences.
"Since we have apartments that are now putting in individual water meters voluntarily rather than using master meters, obviously this [ordinance] is not a terrible burden on the developer of the apartments or the condominiums," Collins said. "It certainly has advantages for everybody. This really puts everybody in control of their own destiny rather than large numbers of tenants being dependent on a landlord to pay the water bill."
Collins said there are several existing properties that operate on master meters, and the tenants pay extensive water bills. Collins said this is because the complexes are suffering from water leaks. Instead of the landlord or homeowner association having the leaks repaired, they take the total amount of the water bill, including the leaks, and distribute them among the tenants.
"I know of one case where I've been told that the landlord charges the tenants $150 a month for water when they probably use about $15 or $20 worth of water," Collins said. "The difference between $20 and $150 is those renters paying for the common-area water leaks that are the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant."
Lowery's proposed ordinance would provide new tenants with the security of paying their own water bills, but it won't impact people who currently reside in areas that operate on master meters. Lowery is seeking ideas from the public on how residents at those apartment complexes and condos can avoid having their water cut off or paying hefty water bills.
The ordinance must go through three readings by the city council before it can be approved, and Lowery said he's confident that the proposal will be passed.
"What reason would any council member have to vote against this?," Lowery inquired. "Why would they not want to protect individual citizens from being foreclosed on or losing their property, because they're not paying their water bills? I can't see any reason to vote against this."
This story also appeared in The Memphis Flyer