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Ultimately, if City utility bills remain unpaid, state law allows the City to assess the charges, penalties and interest against the real property served by the utility. This is consistent with the concept that it is the property that receives the benefit of the utility service, not simply the user.
Minnesota Statute 444.075, s. 3(e) states: The governing body may make the charges a charge against the owner, lessee, occupant or all of them and may provide and covenant for certifying unpaid charges to the county auditor with taxes against the property served.
Minnesota Statute 116A.22 provides: Charges established for connections to and the use and availability of service from any water or sewer or combined system, if not paid when due, shall, together with any penalties established for nonpayment, become a lien upon the property connected or for which service was made available. written notice shall be mailed to the owner of any property as to which such charges are then due and unpaid, stating the amount of the charges and any penalty thereon and that unless paid the same will be certified...and assessed as a tax...upon the property for collection with and as a part of other taxes.
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State law recognizes that the primary parties to the utility supply transaction are the City, as supplier, and the property benefited by utility service availability.
Minnesota Statute 444.075, s.3(e), authorizes the City to charge the owner and to certify unpaid charges against the property served as a tax. Minnesota Statute 325E.025, s.2, distinguishes other types of utility services (such as electrical, gas, propane, and telephone) from water utilities, recognizing that water utilities provide a unique benefit to the property and are essential to human habitation. In fact, the law prohibits owners from renting out any premises without a connection to the water system. Gas, electric, propane and phone utilities provide a benefit primarily to the end user - accordingly, the landlord is not responsible for their payment and unpaid charges cannot be assessed against the property.
State law also recognizes that part of the charge for water utilities recovers the cost of the infrastructure and its maintenance. Minnesota Statute 444.075, s.3(a).
Almost all of the problems experienced by City utility billing staff with tenant billed accounts revolve around the fact that the City is not a party to the lease and has no knowledge about its specific terms.
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, if a landlord, an agent, or other person acting under the landlord's direction or control, interrupts or causes the interruption of electricity, heat, gas, or water services to the tenant, the tenant may recover from the landlord treble damages or $500, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney's fees. It is a defense to any action brought under this section that the interruption was the result of the deliberate or negligent act or omission of a tenant or anyone acting under the direction or control of the tenant. The tenant may recover only actual damages under this section if:
(b) The remedies provided in this section are in addition to and shall not limit other rights or remedies available to landlords and tenants. Any provision, whether oral or written, of any lease or other agreement, whereby any provision of this section is waived by a tenant, is contrary to public policy and void. The provisions of this section also apply to occupants and owners of residential real property which is the subject of a mortgage foreclosure or contract for deed cancellation and as to which the period for redemption or reinstatement of the contract has expired.