Thursday 1 December 2022
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Syracuse Can no Longer Shut off Water for Tenants if Their Landlords Don’t Pay the Bill

WaterShutroffBy John Washington –

A settlement reached between Legal Services of Central New York and the City of Syracuse will provide more tenant protections by holding landlords accountable for unpaid water bills.

Under the settlement in the class action Winston v. City of Syracuse, the City confirmed it will not shut off water to tenants due to landlords’ unpaid water bills. The City will also ensure that going forward all water shut off notices will include clear instructions for tenants to contact the Syracuse Water Department or Legal Services of Central New York to arrange for reactivation of water services.

The agreement ends a 10-year practice of the city of Syracuse shutting off water for tenants after their landlords fail to pay the bill.

Jacqueline Winston initiated the suit against the city of Syracuse in 2016 when her water was shut off after her landlord fell behind on payments. The city agreed to pay $35,000 for her legal fees and reimburse her $650.

The agreement comes subsequent to an April 11, 2018 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which stated that the practice of municipalities shutting off water to tenants when landlords fail to pay their water bills is unconstitutional.

The decision impacts the full jurisdiction of the Second Circuit, which includes municipalities in Vermont, Connecticut, and New York.

“The Second Circuit’s decision ended the unconstitutional practice employed by many municipalities throughout CT, NY, and VT of holding tenants like Ms. Winston responsible for debts to which they have no relationship,” explained Joshua Cotter, Attorney for Ms. Winston. “We are delighted to have now resolved this matter in the U.S District Court and applaud the City of Syracuse for its commitment to holding landlords accountable for unpaid water bills.”

“This resolution helps us to increase housing stability for our residents,” said Kristen E. Smith, Corporation Counsel for the City of Syracuse. “Going forward the City will continue to hold landlords responsible for unpaid water bills and will pursue every avenue possible under the law to ensure water bills are paid.”

Smith noted that the city is legally permitted to add unpaid water bills to property tax bills and, ultimately, foreclose on properties if those bills remain unpaid.

The Syracuse Common Council will vote on the settlement next week.

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