On-Again, Off-Again Plan To Charge Casper Landlords For Unpaid Utilities Off Again

After approving two readings of an ordinance that would make landlords responsible for unpaid utility bills to help recover $700,000 to $800,000 a year in losses, the Casper City Council is having second thoughts.

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Dale Killingbeck

February 15, 20244 min read

Casper City Council appears to have reversed course on making landlords responsible for city water and sewer bills.
Casper City Council appears to have reversed course on making landlords responsible for city water and sewer bills. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — The result of another marathon City Council discussion about collecting $700,000 to $800,000 a year in unpaid utility bills will please area landlords.

That’s because after approving two readings of an ordinance that would have made landlords responsible for covering the unpaid utility bills of their tenants, the council seems to have reversed course — at least for now.

A straw vote with councilmembers at a work session this week indicates a proposed third and final reading of the ordinance will likely be amended to eliminate that requirement. The straw poll was 5-3 with one abstention to remove the landlord language.

Vice Mayor Lisa Engebretsen, a local real estate broker, did not participate in the voting or discussion.

The council majority seemed to be swayed by the logic of Councilmember Amber Pollock, who said while she believes the proposal from city staff is the best way to deal with that shortfall in unpaid utility bills each year, there are other costs to consider.

‘Short End Of Stick’

“The tenant is going to be the one that gets the short end of this stick,” she said. “There is not going to be a landlord that leaves himself vulnerable to their potential bottom line.”

Pollock said with first and last month’s rent, a big bump in the security/utility deposit to landlords, and the deposit required to the city for utilities, renters will struggle.

“You have to have $3,000 to $4,000 on hand to get into a new place,” she said. “I agree this is the solution to solve delinquency. What I don’t know is the cost of creating instability over here and what kind of impact that has and if it offsets the benefit we have received of being able to collect on delinquencies.”

Pollock suggested the council consider adopting the ordinance without the landlord payment requirement.

Other elements of the ordinance include adding notification to landlords when a tenant’s bill is not paid. Landlords also would be able to order services shut off after an account becomes delinquent, something they cannot do now.

Council also discussed the possibility of going to a model similar to Cheyenne’s where a landlord or property owner is the only one on the bill.

Councilmembers Brandy Haskins, Kyle Gamroth and Jai-Ayla Sutherland all voiced support for that direction.

Piecemeal Approach

However, Pollock said upending a proposal that much at a third reading without getting input from local residents seemed unwise. She advocated a more piecemeal approach.

Mayor Steve Cathey voiced some support for the Cheyenne model, but told the council he’s supporting the city staff’s original proposal that includes landlord liability, as did Councilmember Ray Pacheco, who argued that it’s “rich” some landlords opposing the proposed ordinance label themselves “fiscal conservatives” but want the city’s responsible ratepayers to subsidize those who are not.

Pacheco said he believes city staff did their “due diligence” and “research,” and the third reading should be passed as is with landlords responsible for unpaid bills.

Gamroth said he’s “amenable” to passing the ordinance at the third reading without the landlord responsibility language, but also including a review of any results of the revamped ordinance in six months.

Initial straw votes to pass the proposed ordinance without changes resulted in thumbs up indications from Cathey, Pacheco and Councilmember Michael Bond.

A straw vote to pass the ordinance without the landlord responsibility clause initially did not garner enough votes because Haskins said she would only approve if the council could review it in six months.

“There’s no guarantee,” Cathey said.

City Manager Carter Napier said if the council adopts the proposed amendment without the landlord responsibility, a majority vote during the council roundtable to ask the staff to bring it back within six months would ensure the amendment would be reviewed in that time frame.

A vote on the amendment will be at the council’s next regular meeting Feb. 20.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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