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Bush River Manor residents dispute 'outrageous' water bills

Residents of the Bush River Manor mobile home park are fighting what a leader of the community’s tenants council calls “outrageous” water bills, which she and other tenants allege have increased since a new owner took over the property last spring.

“It’s been terrible for the whole entire community, especially the retired [residents] and the veterans,” Vatrice Malloy, co-chair of the Bush River Manor Tenants Council, said Wednesday. “I have tenants who have been in and out of the hospital due to stress levels.”

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The manager of the 182-unit community in Perryman says the billing issues have been resolved however, and new electronic water meters that can be read remotely are scheduled to be installed early next week.

The Bush River Manor community is in the 200 block of Forest Green Road, with the Forest Greens Lake Preserve to the south and the 32-acre Perryman Forest — the former Forest Greens Country Club — to the west. Both forested areas have been preserved through the Harford Land Trust.

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Malloy has lived in the mobile home park for three years. She said water bills started going up after the current owner, Bush River Manor LLC, took over the property from its previous owner, D&H Industries, in May 2018.

She said tenants “started to receive outrageous water bills” under the new owner.

Malloy said her typical quarterly water bill was about $150 to $160 under the previous owner. She said tenants’ bills have ranged, under the new owner, from $150 to $390. The property receives water from Harford County and then bills the residents for usage, according to Malloy.

Property manager Paula Hanks said bills had to be estimated while 75 non-working water meters were replaced after Bush River Manor LLC took ownership.

Managers saw that the replacement water meters were not giving accurate readings, though, and learned that the meters were not new but had been refurbished before being provided to the community, according to Hanks.

A new utility company is scheduled to start installing “182 new, electronic, up-to-date meters” Monday, Hanks said.

The property owner has also shifted to monthly water bills, and all tenants received accurate bills for December and January, Hanks said.

She described the issue raised by the tenants’ council as “a problem that has been fixed not once, but twice.”

The RUBS method for water billing in multi-family communities takes factors such as number of occupants and the square footage of each unit into account.

The system is described as “a cost-effective and fair alternative” to individual water meters on the website of PayLease, a San Diego firm that handles billing of residents, utility expenses and online payments for homeowners associations and property management firms.

“The advantage of implementing a RUBS program is that it requires no initial capital investment and it will avoid intrusion upon entering each resident’s apartment to install a meter,” according to the website of Accurate Utility Management, a Washington State-based “third party multifamily utility billing service.”

A number of residents have posted messages on the private Facebook group, Bush River Manor Trailer Park Community Page, about the water bills.

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Malloy said she and her fellow tenants are working with Harford County leaders and attorneys to resolve the situation. She said County Councilman Curtis Beulah, whose district includes Perryman, has been “very helpful with this entire situation.”

“My office is working with the residents of Bush River Manor, and we’re working with the owner’s attorney to reach a fair and equitable resolution for all parties involved in the near future,” Beulah said Wednesday.

The tenants met last Saturday; they declined an offer to reduce water bills from the Aug. 30-Nov. 30, 2018 quarter with a $73 credit, from $198 to $125. Malloy said the tenants “didn’t find it fair” since each spent an estimated “well over” $1,000 on utilities between May and December last year.

Malloy said the tenants’ next steps will be put forth during the council’s March meeting. They will work with county leaders and attorneys between now and then as they “try to figure out what is most fair to tenants.”

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