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Family has water again thanks to you

July 2, 2014: You might expect to lose water service if a water main breaks near your house. Or if a hurricane rolls through. But barring freak accidents, billing-paying residents can generally expect water in the tap. Not so for Aungelique Wynn, who was surprised when the water company shut off service to the home she rents with her two sons. She had been paying the water bill faithfully since her landlord’s foreclosure, so she called the water company to find out what was wrong. They refused to turn the water back on without the permission of the property owner. So she had to buy bottled water for all her family’s needs. For three weeks.
Thankfully, Ms. Wynn had the law on her side, as the Public Justice Center, our allies in the Maryland Rental Housing Coalition, and your advocacy had only a year ago helped pass a bill prohibiting a property owner from, among other things, taking possession or threatening to take possession of a home from a tenant by turning off the tenant’s essential services. The law allows the tenant to bring a claim for damages, and states that if the owner loses the case, the owner must also pay the tenant’s attorney’s fees and court costs.  PJC attorney Ronnie Reno wrote a letter to the foreclosure sale purchaser of the home, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, cited the new law, and demanded that the Department restore water service to the property. After some back and forth and with the assistance of PJC law clerk Mark O’Halloran, Veterans’ Affairs agreed to restore Ms. Wynn’s water service.
This case may have ended differently, however, without the leverage of the law that provided Ms. Wynn with a potential claim for damages and attorney’s fees.  Systemic legislative change like this new law affects thousands of families just like the Wynns – often helping to resolve cases without having to file a complaint in court. Thank you to everyone who called their legislators or supported our efforts to pass this bill in 2013. Your support helped turn on the water for Ms. Wynn’s family and will help others like her as we continue to enforce the new law.

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