Due to a problem of tenants not paying their bills, the Towanda Municipal Authority (TMA) will soon bill only landlords for the payment of water and sewer bills.

Effective June 1, all of the TMA's sewer and water accounts that are in tenants' names will be placed in the landlords' names, the TMA said in a letter that it recently sent to the landlords in the TMA's service area.

Effective June 1, all water and sewer bills for tenants' dwellings will be sent to the landlord for payment, the letter states.

The change in billing was part of a revised set of rules and regulations that was adopted by the TMA's board of directors at their March 18 meeting, said James A. Pruyne, the solicitor for the TMA.

"The authority has a substantial backlog of bills that have not been paid, and they are almost 100 percent tenant bills," Pruyne said, explaining why the change in billing is being made.

The office staff of the TMA "spends an inordinate amount of time chasing tenants" for unpaid bills, Pruyne said.

One problem with having bills in the tenants' name is that typically "tenants, especially ones who don't pay, don't have any assets," Pruyne said.

By contrast, property owners have a much better track record of paying their water and sewer bills, he said.

And if need be, the TMA could put a lien on the landlord's property or sue him or her to get water and sewer bills paid, Pruyne said.

"The Towanda Municipal Authority has a continual backlog of bad debts (unpaid water and sewer bills)," Pruyne said. "Unless there is a mechanism for people to pay (their unpaid bills), we have to charge higher rates for everyone else."

The billing change will affect a lot of people. In Towanda Borough, for example, rented apartments and other residential units not occupied by the owner constitute roughly 40 percent of the housing.

The Towanda Municipal Authority owns the Towanda Water and Sewer Systems, which is the entity that provides water and sewer service to the TMA's customers.

Very few water and sewer systems allow bills to be put in the tenants' name, TMA officials said.

The tenants' existing accounts will be closed out as of May 31, the letter states. "There will be no more tenant accounts, effective June 1," TMA Manager Tom Fairchild Jr. said.

Any tenants' deposits will be applied against what is still owed by the tenant as of May 31, and the rest of the deposit will be returned to the tenant, the letter states.

Under the new system, if a building has more than one rented apartment, the landlord will be able to see on the bill what portion of the bill comes from each of the rented apartments, Fairchild said.

In addition to residential tenants' accounts, sewer and water accounts for commercial, industrial and other types of tenants will also be put in the property owner's name, effective June 1, Fairchild said.

In order to be able to notify tenants of a shutoff of their utility service, the TMA's rules and regulations require that landlords keep the TMA current on the name and address of the tenant who holds the lease to a dwelling unit, or who rents the unit without a lease, Pruyne said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.