Unmetered water billing curbs sought by Montgomery County citizens group

February 04, 2003|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

A Montgomery County citizens group recommended yesterday that the County Council regulate unmetered water billing in apartment complexes, making Montgomery the second municipality in the state to suggest curbs to the practice.

The group suggested that the county restrict the way residents can be charged for water and sewer use, and limit service fees and charges that landlords can pass to tenants.

A Howard County group made similar suggestions in December and also recommended that unmetered billing be outlawed in Howard by 2013.

Until last year, no Maryland municipality had tried to regulate the industry, which has caused debate nationwide and is regulated in areas including Oregon, Texas and Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Consumer experts say the recommendations are a sign that Maryland is rapidly catching up to such states and increase the likelihood of further regulations. Some elected officials are exploring the option of introducing statewide laws.

Water and sewer costs were historically included in the rent of apartment dwellers. But as water costs increased during the past decade, more landlords have begun charging tenants separately for water.

Some landlords have installed a meter in each dwelling so they can bill tenants for their exact water usage. Others, particularly those who own older buildings where the plumbing system makes it difficult to install meters, use unmetered billing.

Typically, a landlord using an unmetered billing system will contract the work to a billing company, which will take the total cost for a complex, subtract a percentage for common area costs such as pools and laundry rooms, and then divide the rest based on variables such as the number of people, square feet or rooms in a unit. The company will then charge the tenants and collect the money.

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