Atlanta Threatens to Cut Off Water to 126-Member HOA for Delinquent Bills

     ATLANTA (CN) - A homeowners association admits its members owe more than $60,000 in delinquent bills, but says that doesn't give the city the right to cut off the HOA's water on Friday, as Atlanta plans to do.
     The Villages of Cascade Homeowners Association sued the City of Atlanta Watershed Management and 23 of its own members in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming it's impossible for the HOA to collect all the delinquent bills by Friday, and the city is overcharging for water anyway.
     "Shutting off the water even to those residents who have contributed to payment of the water bills irreparably harms the innocent residents of the Villages of Cascade, as those residents will suffer incompensable damage being deprived of water for no reason other than mere misfortune of having neighbors who failed to do their part," the HOA says.
     The HOA claims that Atlanta has been overbilling it since October 2009. It says it has been disputing the unfair bills, with little success, since then.
     "To avoid shutoff, Villages of Cascade paid $10,000, but it noted in writing a dispute of the December 2010 bill in an amount greater than $66,000 and questioned the validity of water bills greater than $25,000 for a townhome community of only one hundred and twenty-six (126) units," the complaint states.
     "In July 15, 2011, Villages of Cascade continued to receive high water bills, and again, Villages of Cascade disputed the amounts in writing with the City of Atlanta." The lawsuit is the latest in a string of Atlantans' complaints about exorbitant water bills, since Atlanta raised its water rates by 12.5 percent in July 2009. While the city has acknowledged that there could be technical problems with its billing system or its new technology, it claims that new meters installed in the past 2 years, which more accurately report water use, are partly responsible for the higher bills.
     The Villages of Cascade HOA claims it "was negotiating payment arrangements to pay the undisputed amounts on a payment plan when the president was given approximately two weeks' notice that if Villages of Cascade could not pay at least 25 percent of the total delinquent amount due, the water would be shut off to the entire community."
     The townhome association collects monthly water fees from its residents, whose units are linked to a single water meter. The HOA blames its delinquent residents for its inability to pay the past-due bills.
     "Villages of Cascade is suffering a delinquency assessment rate of approximately 63 percent," the complaint states. "The named co-defendants are delinquent owners whose combined total unpaid assessments is $60,067.56, more than sufficient to satisfy the delinquent balance owed to the city of Atlanta."
     The HOA claims that "Despite the large delinquency in assessments, Villages of Cascade has been making consistent payments to reduce its balance.
     "Villages of Cascade does not have the funds to pay in full the balance demanded by the city of Atlanta in the time frame demanded by the city of Atlanta without completely depleting the association's funds and bankrupting the community."
     The HOA says it has been arguing with Atlanta about the billing since October 2009.
     But, "While the city of Atlanta has conceded that there were some water leaks and made some adjustments to the bills for Villages of Cascade, Villages of Cascade still disputes that the balance demanded is accurate.
     "Since the balance on the Villages of Cascade's bill remained inaccurate for so long and the city of Atlanta failed to properly adjust for interest accruing during that period of time, Villages of Cascade is being penalized for not having paid the inaccurate balance at the time it was initially charged."
     Atlanta says it will cut off the water on Friday unless it receives 25 percent of the past due amount.
     The HOA says that's not only unfair, it's illegal to do it while a dispute is pending.
     "Villages of Cascade should not be penalized for the fact that the appeals process at the city of Atlanta moves slowly," the HOA says.
     The HOA says it could raise its monthly assessments to cover the water bills, but it cannot do it by the July 29 deadline "arbitrarily instituted by the city of Atlanta."
     It wants the city enjoined from cutting off the water on Friday, and from charging interest and penalties on disputed amounts. And it wants to recover the past due amounts from unit owners.
     The HOA is represented by Dana Tucker Davis with Taylor English Duma.