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William Johnson

The City of Emporia and Virginia state law requires real property owners to cover utility bills unpaid by tenants. On Tuesday, two City Council members, and a proprietor took issue with the code.

Clint Slate, of Slate Enterprises, said he has been down the same road with Greensville County and believes it would require more than a public hearing to put the responsibility on his company. He said he had discussed the subject with legal counsel. He thinks the law is on his side.

“The problem I have is the leniency of the delinquency of these bills,” he said. “To collect the rent is a chore in its self.”

In March, the State Corporation Commission announced the suspension of penalties, interest, or cut-off of utilities due to the pandemic. City Manager William Johnson said his staff projects an outstanding balance of $231,000 between March and Aug. 31.

The City’s governing body voted to table the issue until the Sept. 1 meeting. Still, it did not stop Council members from seeking clarification and answers.

“It’s not an ideal situation, and it’s done under the guise of the pandemic,” Councilman Woody Harris said. “So we can’t really do anything right now about this because of that requirement.”

Councilman Jim Saunders said his heart goes out to those unable to pay utility bills due to circumstances brought by the pandemic. He said it is unfair to put the burden of delinquent utility bills on the property owner.

“I don’t think it’s right to take an investor, any investor, and then allow tenants to go an amount of time without paying the bills,” Saunders said. “And then going to the property owner and trying to collect four, five or six months of worth of water bills — that can easily break the investment.”

The City Council revisits the issue Sept. 1.