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On Behalf of Tenants

Tenants can come home to faucets that run dry even when the rent is paid if the landlord fails to pay the utility bills. Such service terminations unfairly penalize renters who have no control over delinquent landlords. A bill on Gov. George Deukmejian’s desk would give renters more notice of a utility cutoff. It is a fair proposition.

The measure, AB 2494, sponsored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana), was inspired by a week-long dry spell at an apartment complex two years ago in Los Angeles. The water was cut off because the owner had failed to pay a contested $15,000 bill for service on another piece of property that he had once owned. That controversial termination, however, prompted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to suspend its shut-off policy. And the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance to allow the DWP to place a tax lien on the property of landlords who refuse to pay their bills. Those remedies protect tenants who live in Los Angeles, but renters continue to face thousands of interruptions at apartment buildings in Southern California, Sacramento, Fresno and the San Francisco Bay Area. The terminations are not limited to slum housing. It is a common problem.

The Friedman bill would protect tenants by preventing cutoffs for nonpayment of bills due on another piece of property. It would also require utilities to give tenants 15 days’ notice of termination by posting signs in English or the predominant language on doors or in common areas. And it would make it easier for renters to seek relief from recalcitrant landlords. The measure would also prohibit interruptions that threaten the health or safety of tenants or the public. It merits the governor’s signature.

No tenants should be forced to fetch buckets of water from hoses hooked up to a nearby building because a landlord refuses to pay a utility bill.

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