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North Las Vegas attempting to notify landlords of delinquent accounts

Landlords in North Las Vegas will now have online access codes to keep tabs on delinquent water bills on their properties.

The change in the notification process is in the works after some property owners complained about being charged hundreds of dollars for bills in the names of tenants who hadn’t paid the city.

“We’re notifying owners of whenever there’s a change in tenants, so they’re aware of who is opening up the account,” said William Riggs, the city’s utilities financial manager. “It gives the property owners an access code to see if anything is delinquent. It’s good for as long as the tenant is (living there).”

The utilities department bills properties for water, wastewater and garbage collectively. If one part of the account becomes delinquent, the entire bill is considered past due, Riggs added.

City officials have mailed notices and made phone calls to some landlords, who have mixed emotions about the changing process.

“We’re hoping this will solve the main issues,” Riggs said.

Landlord Brent Bulloch, who owns 60 rental units throughout North Las Vegas, said the notices are simply a Band-Aid for the problem because the municipal code still allows the city to go after property owners for a past due bill in someone else’s name.

“It certainly doesn’t solve my problems,” Bulloch said. “It’s their job to do the water bill. It should be their job to shut it off when it’s delinquent and collect adequate deposit to cover their losses. The power company doesn’t come after me for a tenant’s unpaid bill. Gas doesn’t come after me, either. What gives the city the right to come after me?”

Bulloch said the agreement for utilities is between tenants and the city.

“I haven’t tried the codes yet, and it wouldn’t matter, anyway,” he said. “It’s a waste of time and effort. Even if the utilities are delinquent, they won’t let me shut them off unless the account is in my name. I don’t want to put it in my name; it’s the city’s bill. I don’t want to collect for the city and do their job for them.”

If the owner sets up the account in his name, the owner can call the city, which can legally shut off the water at that point, Riggs said.

The property owner would then be responsible for figuring out a business deal with the tenant for payment.

“If the tenant puts it in their name, we can’t give out that information,” Riggs said. “That’s where it gets into legality areas we have to watch out for.”

Landlord Dennis Pankey said he has received a few letters from the city regarding the change in notification and appreciates the effort the department is putting forth to try to solve the problem.

“I understand sometimes it takes time to make things get going, but they’re still holding us responsible,” he said. “… Basically we still have the same problems. There are no checks and balances. If they say that $1,000 is owed, how do I know that money is owed or not?”

If he could get enough landlords together, Pankey had threatened to file a lawsuit against the city for defamation of character and slander. However, nobody wants to pay out of pocket for attorney fees, he added.

“At this point, it’s at a stand still,” Pankey said.

City officials can go through all of an account’s billing records to demand payment on those that are delinquent . The city upgraded to a new system in 2003, and any accounts older than that should have been resolved, Riggs said.

However, Pankey said the department recently questioned a bill from 1986, though no payment has been demanded.

The city also can demand payment from landlords who have purchased foreclosed properties directly from the bank without going through a title company.

“We will hold them accountable if the city has a lien on the property,” Riggs said. “That should have been cleared off through a purchase with a title company.”

Mayor Shari Buck said the change in process is a good idea as long as landlords use the access codes.

“The important thing is they were notified that they are responsible for that water bill,” Buck said. “Hopefully, with these new measures in place, it will help to keep everything current.”

Buck added that she wants to hold a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting regarding the access codes after a trial period.

“We need to invite the landlords to come give their opinions,” she said. “It’s good to have public input from them about what would work well for them and what would work well for the city.”

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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