Landlord, city go head-to-head over water service
By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
Sept. 1, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.
Updated Sept. 2, 2011 at 4:02 a.m.
A more than yearlong dispute between a landlord and the city of Ganado about water and sewer usage left residents without water for almost an entire day.
The city turned off the water to the landlord's 10 homes on Thursday. But the landlord relinquished and paid the deposit in the early evening. However, the dispute may not be over.
The Rev. David Ramirez's rental properties at 1703½ state Highway 172 each have their own water meter with private service accounts with the city.
The problem, Ganado Public Utilities Director of Public Works Darrell Tise explained, is Ramirez's water and sewage infrastructure on the property is privately owned by Ramirez and does not have easements.
The tenants, however, pay the city for water use.
"If there's any issues with the infrastructure lines, we have no means to repair them without forcibly going on his property," Tise said, mentioning Ramirez has in previous months banned city workers from trespassing on his property.
In an attempt to streamline the water and sewer service across town, the city of Ganado asked Ramirez to install a master water meter, or commercial account in his name, and be responsible for supplying water service bills to the tenants each month.
This would allow the city to operate the water and sewer lines under one account, and allow city workers to maintain the lines properly without trespassing, Tise said.
"When I bought the property, everyone has their own water meter. I do not have an agreement with the residents to charge them for water," Ramirez said. "It's not my responsibility to supply water for these people."
Even though tenants such as Dominique Johnson have already paid their water bills to the city, she, too, experienced the water shut off because Ramirez refused to transfer to a commercial account.
"He's been knowing this for three years, that's how long they've been going at it. I'm paying $750 for rent, and I need my water to be on," Johnson said. "I can't wash my baby's bottles. I can't do nothing I need to do."
Johnson moved in her two bedroom, two bathroom home on Aug. 9 with her husband and three children but did not know about the existing water dispute between her landlord and the city.
"If I would have known about this, I never would have got this house," she said.
To turn the water back on for the tenants, Ramirez had to pay a $150 refundable deposit and sign a service agreement with the city, Tise said.
"That's it, it's very simple," Tise said. "Water would be turned back on in three to five minutes."
And about 6 p.m., Ramirez paid the deposit and signed the service agreement with the city.
"I had to because people had babies in there, and I couldn't let them go without water; I couldn't let them suffer," Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who pastors Ganado-based church Vida Cristiana, said he is considering letting his tenants out of their leases. He also is considering legal action against the city of Ganado.
Written and verbal correspondence about updating the water and sewer lines on Ramirez's property have been documented since November, Tise said, but the issue has been ongoing for some time. The most recent letter from the city advised Ramirez that his units would no longer be eligible to receive water service through the city beginning Aug. 24, and would be required to receive utility service through Ramirez's D&D Rentals. The notice also said Ramirez had until Thursday to set up a commercial account or they would cut off the water to the residents living on his property.
Tise said he didn't know why Ramirez had refused to pay the deposit until Thursday evening.
Johnson said she was considering seeking legal action against her landlord because the water had not been turned on.
"It's an easy deal to fix. He needs to do what he needs to do," Johnson said. "And this is all over $150. It's not like he didn't know this was going on."