Landlord Adam Snyder is accustomed to additional costs popping up at his rental properties. It’s to be expected when he owns dozens of units around the Village of Oak Harbor.
What he won’t stomach though is coughing up cash for somebody else’s old utility bill that the village refuses to take off its books.
Snyder recently addressed village council with his concern. His issue: the $469 outstanding utility bill for a three-apartment building at 115 ½ Ottawa St. he bought in a foreclosure deal with a bank.
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Snyder went to council in March hoping he would be granted an exemption. The village has an ordinance which states landlords or people who buy buildings are responsible for the old utility bills of tenants. Snyder made his plea several weeks ago and nothing has moved forward in reviewing his case, he said last week. He is now exploring his options.
Some council members, however, have expressed reluctance to grant an exemption.
If they did, councilman Jim Seaman explained, what is to stop another landlord or building owner from bringing a similar complaint? He suggested the issue go before the property maintenance committee to possibly find a resolution. The committee is a type of grievance committee.
Councilman Don Douglas, a landlord of three units himself, said simply that Snyder’s situation amounts to “the cost of doing business.”
But Snyder is standing his ground. He warned he won’t shoulder the costs when the village did not fulfill its part to reclaim the lost funds.
The bill never turned up in the title search for his purchase agreement, he explained. Upon further research, he found village officials never filed a lien against the property for the unpaid bill.
“I had a title search and it did not come up. Had this come out during the title search, I would have taken care of it with the bank,” the landlord said.
Filing a lien is an attempt by the village to regain its lost funds when a foreclosure deal closes and monies are distributed among those owed, Solicitor Jim Barney explained. But so many times, utility bills such as these are so far down the list of debtors that there isn’t enough money to cover all the expenses and the lien may not be worth filing.
Still, Snyder argued, that is not his fault. The village shirked its duties and it’s not his responsibility to make up the difference.
And what’s worse, he said, those who ran up the bill “had electrical and water until the day they left.” Why, he asked, didn’t village workers take care of the outstanding bill at that time? It takes a few months to accumulate nearly several hundred dollars of utility bills, he said.
The consequences of not rescinding the debt are numerous, Snyder contended.
If he would renovate the building and make apartments available to new occupants, tenants would spur income tax revenues for the village, generate funds for electric and water service and possibly bring more people to the community who would frequent local businesses.
But he insisted he will not make a move until the old bill goes away.
“It’s not my bill. I’m not going to pay it,” Snyder said.
He pledged to maintain the property from this point on as a good neighbor but he will not improve it.
“I am not going to rent that building. I will let the building sit,” Snyder said. “It’s going to be a lose-lose building for everybody.”
Snyder and members of council agreed a number of the village’s utilities laws in general are antiquated. They need to be updated and made easier to revise, members stated.
“We are all in agreement and we are planning to rewrite the legislation. But that won’t help you today,” Seaman told Snyder.
There are no good answers, council agreed. From the village perspective, they noted, a product was sold and the costs need to be recouped.
“We don’t want to change (the legislation) and make it worse,” councilman Jon Fickert said.
“No,” Seaman responded. “We want to change and make it fair.”
Interim Village Administrator Randy Genzman and others looked up building records in an effort to help resolve the situation.
No one knows who ordered the service cut offs to the building and why the old bill was not addressed then, according to Genzman. “There’s no record of it,” he said.