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Drought Could Finally Open Door For LA Landlords to Pass Water Bills Onto Renters

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After a decade of pushing, landlords hoping to change the law so they can pass water bills on to tenants have gotten a lucky break lately from the drought. Now that there are mandatory water restrictions for the whole state, everyone seems a lot more interested in the plan, and in fact "[Mayor] Garcetti is open to the idea and says he is exploring ways of doing this without drawing too much ire from tenants' rights groups," reports the LA Business Journal. Los Angeles's rent control law says landlords of buildings built before 1979 can't pass on water costs to their tenants, which obviously they hate and have been trying to change forever; but now "there's more urgency from landlords because of the expectation that water rates will increase sharply as drought-related water limits take hold in coming months." They're also worried they'll be stuck with fines for their tenants' over-use.

Unfortunately, the current, very nascent plan favored by landlords is to hire a third-party billing company which will decide how much of a rent-controlled building's water bill each apartment must pay based on an estimate of how much water is used by each unit. The estimate would be calculated using a formula that takes into account "the number of residents and plumbing fixtures" in a building. (Installing individual meters for each unit is seen as too costly by landlords, so they're favoring this solution as the next best thing.)

If this plan is implemented, landlords would also offer a one-time rent deduction that's equal to an apartment's first monthly water bill, "keeping tenants' total monthly payment flat – so long as their water costs don't rise." The executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival says going this route will lead to "a hidden rent increase in the guise of water billing," especially since it doesn't take into account administrative charges or different use among residents.

Garcetti is on board to get tenants of pre-1979 buildings to pay their own water bills, but he seems to be backing not this sketchy solution, but another plan that would that would bill tenants for the water they're really using. "The ideal approach is to install submeters and bill tenants for actual usage," says a rep for the mayor. "While submeters can be costly, there are new technologies that may help and we are working to understand those options." Some of the new tech could include wireless monitors for pipes that would keep track of water flow and eliminate plumbing upgrades down the road.
· Rate Runoff [LABJ]
· Landlords Want Some Tenants to Pay for Their Water [Curbed LA]