The Altoona Water Authority recently voted to end the billing of residential tenants, despite objections from landlords when staff first proposed the change several months ago.

The amendments to the rules and regulations will go into effect July 1 for new water and sewer service applications, although authority staff will give landlords and tenants a year or so to adjust their existing leases.

The billing office hasn’t received any more pushback from landlords lately, Billing Director Ron Becher said.

Staff asked for the policy change to eliminate the extra administrative labor — “spinning our wheels, chasing our tail” — caused by tenant billing, Becker said previously.

That extra labor includes verifying photo IDs when tenants open accounts, trying to get landlords to pay bills for delinquent tenants, closing out tenant accounts and getting final meter readings and dealing with delinquent tenants who move, then try to sign up for service at a new place — which creates problems at the old location, where a new tenant may be living, and the new one, where there’s a delinquent looking to open a fresh account, according to Becher.

Landlords have always been ultimately responsible for bills anyway, Becher said.

Under the new rules, the authority’s leverage for delinquency will shift to liening of landlord property, according to Becher.

Landlords objected to the change for several reasons, noting that tenants will lose the opportunity to manage their costs, and it won’t always be easy for landlords to pass on the extra costs with a rent increase. In addition to the increased rents, landlords said they might also have to add a cushion to account for the loss of an incentive for tenants to conserve, according to Sean Burke, a local attorney who spoke to the authority in December.

The change was especially problematic because of complications related to COVID-19, landlords said.

The authority can make the proposed change be­cause it’s not regulated by the state Public Utility Commission, according to authority solicitor Dave Consiglio.

With PUC-regulated utilities, tenants can sign up for service in their own names.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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