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Renters left without water for weeks when landlord doesn't pay bill

by Carol FergusonEyewitness News Bakersfield
December 22nd, 2009

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Renters in a Bakersfield apartment had no water service for about two weeks because the landlord had not paid the bill.

That meant no water for sinks, showers or even toilets. They skimped by with only bottled water, until they got assistance from Catholic Charities and some help from California Water Service.

The charity called the Eyewitness News tipline and went to the water company with the tenants on Tuesday afternoon. By 5:00 p.m. the water was finally supposed to be back on. It had been a tough couple weeks.

Kesha didn't want her last name used, she had big bottles of water lined up by the front door of her apartment in the four-unit complex in the 1700 block of Orange Street. Neighbors have let the renters fill up the big bottles.

"We either boil it to wash dishes or clean around the house," Kesha said. "We got one (bottle) upstairs, and we put it in the back of the toilet to flush the toilet. We have to do it like maybe two or three times."

Another neighbor, who didn't want to give her name, has used the same strategy -- even for bathing.

"Not a whole bath, just a sponge bath," she said. "For two weeks."

Kesha had called Catholic Charities, and site director Andy Castaneda hoped to help the tenants. They all went to the California Water Services office. Staff there sat down with Castaneda to work out paying the past-due balance, and getting water back on.

Cal Water agreed to take part of the overdue amount and set up the account under the name of one of the renters for future payments.

"The bill was $500, so we're very happy the water company met us half way," Castaneda said. The company started out asking for $330, but agreed to take $220 by the end of the business day.

Castaneda said the charity had money for that from a special trust.

"The only stipulation that's included in the use of this money is to help the poor to make their lives a little better," Castaneda said. He said getting water service back on, certainly will make their lives better.

The tenants said the landlord is a Los Angeles man, Miguel Salinas Romero. They had no written rental agreements, only his name and a phone number. Kesha said she has tried repeatedly to call, but can never get through.

Eyewitness News made a call to that number and could only leave a message. Another phone number is listed with Romero's name on Kern County property tax rolls. Eyewitness News called that number, but no message could even be left.

One neighbor said Romero came by the complex to pick up the rent, and he had denied the water bill was unpaid.

California Water Service district manager Tim Treloar said the bill from that address had been unpaid for "many months." But, the company was happy to work with the renters in situations like this.

"Please contact us, please come down here and work out something," Treloar said. He added that this group made a good faith payment on the balance, and also made arrangements to catch up on the rest. Treloar said it's difficult to force a landlord to pay a bill on behalf of renters.

"That's a tough situation," Treloar said. "I don't have all the answers for that." He said it wouldn't be feasible for the company to take legal action against non-paying landlords.

The renters on Orange Street said one tenant will get the bill in the future, which Cal Water said would be a total of no more than $90 to $95 a month. The tenants will split that bill, and they'll share the payments to settle the rest of the balance. It was a deal they were happy to take.

"I think it's good, that's a blessing," Laura said. She also didn't want her last name used. She knows the landlord is supposed to pay the water bill.

"That's not right because we're paying the rent," she said -- as the tenants got ready to leave the water company office. "We're paying the rent, and he wasn't paying the water bill. So, that's not right."

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