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City to landlords: Show proof for utility service or $1,000
Mayor offers idea for landlord woes in getting utilities turned on

Last December two prominent property owners in Ceres complained that City Hall policy is too stringent during requests to turn on water, sewer and garbage services for their rental units.

The city requires landowners to provide documentation, such as a rental agreement, in order to start utility service at an address. Shane Parson, a well-known business owner and Ceres Chamber of Commerce official, said the city had treated him "terribly" when city staff demanded proof that he owned the property for which he requested service. He asked for some latitude, noting that getting that documentation is sometimes not easy to access.

Ceres City Manager Toby Wells defended the city's procedures by saying they work for most people, and "protect the business owners and property owners" as well as the city.

On Monday Mayor Chris Vierra suggested a simple idea that Parson thought was "perfect." Vierra suggested the city collect a $1,000 deposit from property owners who don't immediately provide documentation. Finance Director Suzanne Dean suggested that the check be cashed and deposited but refunded when the necessary documentation is produced.

"I think it's a great idea," chimed in Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd. "The person's got to have the intent to do things right because they're not going to give up a thousand bucks."

The city's policy has been that persons requesting water, sewer and garbage service must provide evidence that they have rights to establish service at that property. Documentation includes escrow papers, grant deed or a lease agreement. As a comparison, the city of Turlock and Turlock Irrigation District requires for a deposit but no documentation. Wells said the city has leaned toward the documentation method rather than a deposit out of consideration of lower income families.

Dean reported that the city of Turlock has issues with collecting on some delinquent bills since they don't require adequate documentation for occupants of residences.

The city of Ceres only requires deposits from people unless they have good credit (no more than two late payments in a one-year period) or a letter of credit from TID and PG&E. That deposit is refundable after a year with no late payments.

She suggested that the deposits are so low with recent rate increases that the deposits for sewer service "don't even collect one month of service and our water deposit is about $30 less than the average monthly bill.

"When we turn things over to Collection they're usually higher dollar amounts. But we have been successful in collecting because we have all the documentation necessary to identify the people."

Dean said with the average city bill running $130 per month $260 would cover a two-month deposit.

Vice Mayor Mike Kline suggested the city raise its deposits. Wells countered that with the lower socio-economic levels in Ceres that could prove onerous for some.