NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Last week the Niagara Falls Water Board amended its shutoff policy, after a pregnant woman was left virtually homeless when her landlord ordered the board to turn her water off, and the city’s Department of Code Enforcement condemned the property.
Colleen Atwood, who was 9 months pregnant, contacted Call 4 Action, the Water Board eventually restored service, and when the board changed its policy, the biggest change was nicknamed the “Atwood Clause”.
The change requires property owners to acknowledge shutting off water to an occupied property is against the Niagara County Sanitary Code, but the Niagara Falls Water Board has no authority to enforce the law. The Niagara County Health Department can enforce it.
When it comes to running water at rental properties, Paul Dicky of the Niagara Health Department said, the Health, Hygiene, and Occupancy Code tops even unpaid water bills, “Which requires all rental properties be supplied with a safe and sanitary supply of water.”
Dicky is the Health Dept.’s Director of Environmental Health and he said, by law, a landlord cannot have the water shut off as long as the property is occupied. If it is shut off, health officials will notify the owner to turn the water back on, “We hold the landlords accountable.”
If a landlord is successful in getting the water disconnected for an occupied property, while tenants still live there, Dicky said that success could be short lived.
“If our inspection finds that the water has not been restored, they could be liable up to a $250 fine, and we would still require immediate correction of the violation,” meaning after paying $75 to get the water turned off, the landlord would have to pay another fee to turn the water back on.
But there is a catch. Dicky said if the tenants’ water is shut off and they move out, the building is no longer occupied, and there is no violation of the health code.
His advice, if you are a tenant and get a shutoff notice, you should notify the water board immediately that you are still living there, which should put the brakes on turning off the water.