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Baltimore City Council passes the Water Affordability and Equity Act

On Monday, November 18, the Baltimore City Council passed the Water Affordability and Equity Act. This is a big win for Baltimore City homeowners and renters alike. As water rates have risen in recent years to pay for improvements to keep our water clean, the burden of these price increases has fallen hard on many Baltimore residents. More and more working families, seniors and other low-income households have been unable to pay their bills and faced having their water service cut off. From our office at Rent Court, we saw the impact when tenants were threatened with eviction over a water bill, or when tenants couldn’t dispute an excessive bill because the account was in the landlord’s name.

The Water Affordability and Equity Act will address these challenges, and we were proud to support this legislation as a member of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition. Congratulations to every partner in the coalition and thank you to the many City leaders who carried this bill through to passage. Here are a few ways that renters will benefit from the new law:

Affordable water/sewer service
Renters will have direct access to the Water-for-All Discount Program, without having to rely on the assistance of their landlords in the application process. The program will bring down charges, thereby reducing housing cost burden and decreasing the risk of eviction
No more surprise charges
Any renter whose landlord demands payment for water/sewer service will have a written lease that makes this obligation clear and a copy of DPW's water bill, delivered timely either by DPW or by the landlord. For renters at multi-unit buildings, leases will also spell out exactly how shared costs will be calculated.
Direct access to all account records
If a renter needs copies of new or prior bills, consumption history, or any other records about service to the property, they can directly request and receive that information from DPW, without having to secure permission or intervention from the property owner.
Dispute resolution at DPW
When a renter believes the water/sewer bill is inaccurate, they can engage the new Office of Water-Customer Advocacy and Appeals, without resort to or delay by the landlord. Tenants will benefit from neutral investigation, problem-solving, and resource-sharing, as well as protection from service cut-off.