Dismissed: Tenants lose, landlords win in Baltimore's rent court

City collects $25 million through water shut-off notices

Residents have paid $21.8M to stop Baltimore's water shutoffs; businesses $3.6M

The city has collected more than $25 million in long-unpaid water bills after threatening to shut off service to 25,000 customers.

Department of Public Works spokesman Jeffrey Raymond said residential accounts have paid $21.8 million of $29.5 million owed, while commercial accounts have paid $3.6 million of $15 million owed since the water shut-offs began in April.

As of last week, the city had shut off water to more than 4,000 residential properties, but it restored service to more than 2,000 of those after bills were paid, Raymond said.

The city has shut off water to three of the 369 commercial properties with long-unpaid bills. Nine more commercial properties are subject to turnoffs by the end of the month, Raymond added.

In March, city officials announced they were sending shut-off notices to 25,000 delinquent water customers, giving them 10 days to pay long-overdue bills or face the loss of water service. The customers — both residential and commercial users in the city and Baltimore County — together owed more than $40 million in past-due bills.

Department of Public Works head Rudy Chow said at the time that officials decided it was time to crack down on the growing problem of accounts that go unpaid for months or even years.

"When we don't collect the necessary revenues, it causes us to raise water rates as a result," Chow said. "The citizens who are paying their bills are, in effect, subsidizing those who are not paying."

The action comes after several years in which the water system has had chronic problems with billing, sending some customers wildly inflated statements. Chow said one reason the amount of unpaid bills grew so large is that officials waited to improve billing accuracy before aggressively seeking payments.

The city's enforcement has drawn criticism from some council members and residents who argue Baltimore is more heavily targeting residents — and not businesses — in the collection effort.

The city has about 400,000 water customers, about half of them in Baltimore County. City officials have said they will shut off water to customers with unpaid bills of more than $250 dating back at least half a year.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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