The DEP offers customers a discretionary reduction by 50% of certain abnormally high charges resulting from a hidden leak that was discovered and repaired. To qualify the high bill must be the result of a leak the customer could not be expected to detect readily, such as from an underground pipe. Running toilets have been specifically excluded. We believe it works towards the goal of encouraging conservation not to exclude running toilets or other fixture leaks from the program, especially where multi-residential property is concerned.
Under MCP (flat-rate), there is no cost for being wasteful; all consumption is included in the one price, so running toilets and other leaks as well as wasteful tenants may be ignored. Customers who choose metered billing over MCP choose to exercise control over water consumption, motivated by the goal of attaining a lower bill than on a flat-rate. However, landlords have no control over tenants who do not pay for water and lack motivation to fix running toilets, but are liable for the charges. And not everyone recognizes a silent, steadily running toilet. Common leaks of the sort have a large financial impact.
Besides giving these customers a measure of relief, including running toilets as qualifying properties for the leak forgiveness program will encourage conservation by encouraging customers to keep properties on metered billing and monitor and control consumption instead of switching to MCP for the safety of a fixed bill that does not encourage conservation. The leak forgiveness does not reward waste. The DEP only forgives half the high bill and the customer is responsible for the rest.
One year ago, I lamented the fact that the Water Board had not kept its 20 year old promise to eliminate frontage. It just changed the program name from Frontage to Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP) . MCP is a “Green” name. It even has the word Conservation in it. At that time I acknowledged that the MCP had one advantage over frontage and that was the DEP requirement that owners repair all leaks and install low flow water fixtures in 2015.
Well, the Water Board’s new rate schedule will roll back the compliance date to 2016. Property owners can safely stay on the MCP program without taking any conservation measures for three more years. If past performance is any indication of things to come, the City will most likely extend the deadline for compliance each time it approaches. Unfortunately, nothing will change until NYC is faced with a drought and then it will be too late to accomplish anything.
Long Live Frontage a.k.A. MCP.
The cost of entering into a payment agreement with the NYC Water Board to get your property out of the water bill lien sale is giving up your right to challenge the accuracy of the charges. If you have a $50,000 outstanding balance on account that is about to go into a lien sale, which will result in hefty fees, and you do not have enough cash to pay the balance, you can enter into a payment plan with the Water Board which will take the property off the lien sale, but you must agree that all of the charges are valid and waive your right to ever dispute any of them. So if it turns out later that the Water Board misread your meter and billed you ten times what it should have, you cannot demand the Water Board correct the bill and reduce your debt—you are on the hook to pay the overcharges, interest and all.
The terms of the payment agreement charge you the same 9% interest normally charged on open balances and you must make timely payments of all new charges as well as the scheduled payments. If you default by missing any payment, the Water Board may put the balance back on the lien sale list, but embedded overcharges still may not be disputed. (And the Water Board does not agree that it may not revise those charges to a higher amount should it find an error in your favor.)
The Water Board is taking advantage of the customer’s lack of any bargaining power in order to coerce customers into waiving their basic economic right to dispute overcharges and obtain equitable relief. The balance of equities, like the agreement, is one sided. No customer bargains for these terms. There is no loss or hardship to the Water Board without this provision which only helps the DEP to unjustified windfalls at its customers’ expense. On the other hand, there is no real consideration or benefit given to the customer, such as reducing the amount of the debt and/or not charging interest on the debt, in return for entering into the agreement. The customer enters the agreement because his back is against the wall. This is coercive and imbalanced due to the government’s far greater power and the Water Board should drop this provision from the payment agreement in the interest of justice.
The lien sale is supposed to aid the City to collect honest debts. It is not supposed to be a sword used to coerce members of the public into giving up the right to a fair accounting of their debt. When the City Council authorized the Water Board to sell water tax liens, it failed to safeguard the public from Water Board using the lien sale to coerce the public.