Landlord fights Atlanta City Hall-- and wins - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Landlord fights Atlanta City Hall-- and wins

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A decision from Atlanta City Hall could impact thousands of property owners.  After a FOX 5 story, the Atlanta Water Department has reversed a previous decision, telling a local landlord she will not be responsible for a $19,000 debt left by a renter.

The city has had a policy in place making landlords responsible if a renter skips out on a water bill charge.  But for Shelley Francis, that didn't make sense.  She was staring at a $19,000 water bill left behind by a tenant, so she went to Atlanta City Hall to challenge it. 

FOX 5 told you about the shock Francis received at the water customer office when a clerk revealed that she had an outstanding balance on her townhome for water that was used by a renter.  That balance was $19,113.64, to be exact. 

Francis says she told the water department the balance belonged with her tenant, who lived in her townhome until April 30. 

"And she told me, ‘No, you as the owner are actually responsible for this water bill if a tenant doesn't pay,'" Francis explained.

Water had not been included in the lease agreement Francis had with her tenant. 

Francis told Atlanta City Council members that in her opinion, the policy was not only unfair, but she thought it was illegal to try and harm her finances with a lean or hit to her credit when the renter had her own account with the city.  It took some time, but the water department decided in Francis' favor, saying it would go after the tenant who lived there for the bill instead. 

Francis says she kept in contact with Councilman C.T. Martin, who interceded for property owners, making him aware of every step through her negotiations.  Martin says the city is aware others will now make the same request, and he stressed that exceptions are made only on a case-by-case basis.  He says the policy is tough, but fair to the citizens.

FOX 5's Morse Diggs was scheduled to talk with Commissioner Joanne McCreana on Monday afternoon, but that interview was cancelled abruptly.  The water department later issued a statement saying they are reviewing the complete policy of how to deal with landlords, tenants and those unpaid bills. 

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