Lose your home over sewer bills? State lawmakers look to curb foreclosures

This week, the Connecticut Senate approved a bill to rein-in water and sewer authorities.

John Craven

May 19, 2023, 9:46 PM

Updated 371 days ago

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Could you lose your home for unpaid sewer bills? It happens to hundreds of Connecticut homeowners each year – sometimes over just a few hundred dollars.
This week, the Connecticut Senate voted to rein-in the controversial foreclosures. But critics warn that it could raise everyone else’s sewer bills – or even delay critical repairs.

BRIDGEPORT ISSUES

The legislation arose from complaints in Bridgeport. For the past 15 years, the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority has threatened to foreclose on more than 1,000 homeowners.
Johnny Ray Moore almost lost his house over $1,000 in unpaid sewer bills. He also got hit with thousands more in legal fees.
“All these legal fees and all these other things just ballooned,” he said.
After an intense backlash, the city paused foreclosures in 2019. But since then, court records indicate WPCA has resumed suing dozens of customers.
A Bridgeport city spokesperson declined to comment on Friday. But in the past, WPCA told News 12 Connecticut that customers receive multiple warnings and are offered a payment plan.

HELP FROM HARTFORD?

On Wednesday, state senators approved legislation banning foreclosures unless a customer racks up $4,000 of unpaid bills, or an unpaid balance for five years.
Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said the current system is ripe for abuse.
“The amount that has not been paid – the arrearage – might be $1, $5, $10, $100,” he said.

COULD IT BACKFIRE?

Sewer authorities, especially in small towns, are warning that rates will go up for everyone else if they can't collect unpaid bills.
“What's very clear is that this bill will result in higher sewer assessment on residents across the state,” said state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich). “I think a narrower compromise would have been reasonable, but as is, this is going to result in higher fees, higher costs.”
Towns also say uncollected bills could delay critical maintenance.
“We all value clean water. We all value having an infrastructure system that takes care of our sewer,” said state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield). “It comes with a cost.”

“PEOPLE SHOULD NOT LOSE THEIR HOMES”

Johnny Ray Moore understands the concerns but said something needs to change.
“This is my nest egg, my retirement,” he said.
Moore was able to fight City Hall, but many of his neighbors can’t afford it.
“People should not lose their homes because of a $500 water bill,” he said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The legislation isn't a done deal at all. The Connecticut House of Representatives still has to approve it before they adjourn on June 7, and similar legislation has failed for the past several years.


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