September 19, 2019
Draft water by-law
What you need to know about Oxford County's draft water by-law
Oxford County is putting its water and wastewater operations, billing and collection practices into a water by-law that will take effect tentatively on March 1, 2020.
While most of the water by-law puts into policy what we are already doing, there are some changes the community needs to know about:
- New residential water/wastewater accounts will be held in the name of the property owner, not a tenant in the case of a rental unit. Accounts that already exist will continue as they are now until there is a new tenant.
- New service fees and charges are being introduced for some services to help manage current and future costs of the water and wastewater system.
- A flat rate stand-by charge for vacant residences will now apply--for instance, if a homeowner is away for an extended period of time--to cover the system cost of keeping water and wastewater infrastructure available.
We’re reaching out to the public starting September 11 until November 15, 2019, to make sure residents and landlords understand the proposed changes and have an opportunity to give their feedback and thoughts on how we will put them into place.
This page will continue to be updated through the consultation period. Please check back regularly.
Draft - Water By-Law Draft - Fees and charges Draft - Accounts receivable policy
Water and wastewater operations
How to give feedback
- SPEAK UP, OXFORD!: Send a coment or question through the Speak Up, Oxford! comment form
- E-MAIL: Send an email with your feedback to email@example.com
- QUICK SURVEY: Take our quick, 2-minute survey that lets you speak to key proposed changes
- TELEPHONE: Call 1-800-755-0394 and ask for "Water billing"
- MAIL your feedback to 21 Reeve St., P.O. Box 1614, Woodstock, ON N4S 7Y3
Clarification: Local letter to the editor (Oct 17)
On October 17, a letter to the editor was sent from a multi-residential landlord to local media outlining concerns about one aspect of the County’s draft water by-law: the change from holding a water/wastewater utility bill in a tenant’s name, in the case of a rental unit, to the property owner’s (or landlord’s) name.
Oxford County appreciates the public discussion about the draft water by-law—it’s the reason we have launched an information campaign about it. However, we would like to take the opportunity to clarify some of the assumptions put forward in the letter.
- Will ERTH Power refuse to split water and wastewater charges from hydro charges on the residential bill?
No. If the draft water by-law passes, both ERTH Power and Tillsonburg Hydro will separate water/wastewater charges onto a separate bill and place the water/wastewater portion into the property owner’s name. The hydro portion will be placed in the name of whomever assumes responsibility.
- Are meters being split or added, incurring additional costs?
No: meters are not being split or added to carry out this change. It is only the utility bill that will be separated out so that hydro and then water/wastewater charges can be sent to two different locations. The change in utility billing will only occur for rental units, if the unit’s hydro and water/wastewater services are paid by the tenant.
- Will there be “huge increases” in rental costs in the Ingersoll rental market because of this change?
There may be incremental rent increase as landlords adjust rent to cover water and wastewater charges. At the same time, tenants will see a reduction in their monthly utility costs because they will no longer be paying for water and wastewater services. The average cost of water and wastewater in Ingersoll is $90.00 per month.
As a note, under the draft by-law, if a rental unit is occupied on the date the by-law comes into effect, the change in account holder name will not occur until the tenant moves out.
If you have questions about the draft water by-law, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers to questions we’ve received through Speak Up, Oxford will be posted by October 29.
Questions & Answers
This section was updated on October 30 based on comments and questions to Speak Up, Oxford! Updates are marked as "NEW."
1. What’s changing?
The draft water by-law includes many of the processes and procedures we are already doing now through water operations, billing and collections. However there are a few proposed changes that are different:
- New residential water/waster accounts can only be opened in the name of the property owner, not a tenant in the case of a rental unit. Accounts that already exist will continue as they are now until there is a new tenant. Note: for condominiums where each unit is individuallyy owned and taxed, the owner of each unit is considered to be the property owner (or, the landlord, if the unit is rented out).
- New service fees and charges for some services to help manage current and future costs of the water and wastewater system.
- A flat-rate vacancy or stand-by charge for vacant residences, for instance, if a homeowner is away for an extended period of time, to cover the cost to the system of keeping water and wastewater infrastructure available.
2. NEW: Is this already a “done deal”?
No, the water by-law has not been passed. It is in draft form to allow the public to review it and submit questions and/or comments. Feedback from the public will be considered as part of the final report to County Council. Council will decide to approve or not approve the by-law, or to request changes before it’s approved.
3. When does the by-law come into effect?
Right now, the tentative date for the water by-law to come into effect is March 1, 2020. County Council received the draft water by-law as information on September 11, 2019, with final approval expected in December 2019 after we have reached out to the public to explain the changes and get feedback on how to best put the by-law into place. After the by-law is approved, the County will give residents and its billing partners formal notice.
4. NEW: Is the County listening to feedback?
Yes. The County has received a fair volume of feedback from the community and is exploring several suggestions. These include:
- Keeping the current collection policy the way it is and folding losses from unpaid accounts into the water and wastewater rates paid by everyone.
- Asking for a deposit on new accounts and/or pro-rating deposits over several bills.
- Disconnecting service for non-payment.
- Establishing equal billing, in which the same amount is billed each month based on average use for the account.
- Including both the landlord and the tenant names on the account.
- Keeping the current practice of allowing accounts in tenant names; however, unpaid arrears will be transferred to the landlord property tax account.
The County is also providing more information to clarify where there are questions, most notably about how the draft water by-law affects landlords and tenants. Read the information sheet
5. What is a water by-law?
A water by-law explains the roles and responsibilities of both property owners and Oxford County in ensuring the efficient operation of the municipal supply system. The by-law includes policies and practices for installing water meters, billing and collections, and enforcement when bills are not paid.
The County’s authority to provide water services is set out in Section 11 of The Municipal Act, whereas our water by-law gives more specific details about roles and responsibilities. It is not mandatory for municipalities to have a water by-law, but it is considered “best practice” and they are used by municipalities in Ontario to help protect the integrity and sustainability of the water supply system.
1. NEW: Why is water/wastewater billing being handled differently than other utility bills, like hydro?
Water and wastewater are different from other utilities because they are considered to be a service to a property, not a person, under the Municipal Act. The Act gives municipalities the authority to collect unpaid fees and charges by adding them to the municipal tax bill for the property that received the service.
Municipalities, compared to most other utility services, are non-profit entities and are required to be self-funded. Charges collected for water can only be used to operate that community’s water system, and charges for wastewater can only used to operate that community’s wastewater system. Municipalities are also bound by the Province to maintain and invest in water financial plans to ensure reliable and environmentally sustainable water and wastewater systems into the future. More information
2. NEW: Does the County have the right, or authority, to add unpaid water/wastewater bills to the municipal tax bill?
Yes, under the Municipal Act municipalities have the authority to collect unpaid fees and charges and add them to the municipal tax bill for the property that received the service. The County is already following this practice now for owner occupied properties, as are the majority of other municipalities. More information
Some of the feedback received suggests that this practice is not “legal,” however this authority is granted to municipalities under the Municipal Act. In the past, Oxford County has not exercised its full authority to collect unpaid water and wastewater fees in this manner.
3. NEW: When will I find out if unpaid water/wastewater bills are added to my municipal tax bill?
Will interest be charged until the time I’m notified?
If unpaid water and wastewater bills are transferred to property taxes, the property owner will be notified by the County at the time the arrears are transferred to the taxes. Up until that time, however, water and wastewater bills will be collected through the billing agent (i.e., Erie Thames Power, ERTH Solutions or Tillsonburg Hydro) as usual. Like most bills outstanding past the due date, interest will accrue, both through the billing agent, and then through property taxes.
Landlords and tenants
NEW - Draft water by-law: Information for landlords and tenants
1. UPDATED: Why is the County making changes to residential tenant-held accounts?
After examining our billing practices for water and wastewater, we saw a number of changes that would reduce our overall costs of running the system. As a municipal government, cost efficiencies (or inefficiencies) ultimately get passed on to taxpayers. Under the current billing practices, everyone is paying the cost of bad debts.
We have determined that we could reduce the number of unpaid bills that occur in a year. Up to 94% of these are currently being transferred to a collection agency, which is costly and from which we receive very little payment back.
Also, this change helps protect resident tenants from paying water charges that are related to maintenance of the property, for instance, plumbing issues.
Ultimately, we want to offer a consistent practice where all residential rental units will have the water bill in the name of property owner(s). Right now, many residential tenants, particularly those in apartments or townhouse complexes, currently do not receive a water bill.
2. How are landlords affected by these changes?
Landlords have the potential to save interest charges and administrative costs related to tenant arrears being transferred to the tax roll ($25.00 for each tax roll transfer plus any charges by the local municipality). Also, potential plumbing issues will be more easily identified by the owner receiving the bill.
3. I am a landlord with tenants paying their own water and wastewater bills. Do they need to change over now?
No. Any existing accounts currently billed to tenants will stay that way until the tenant moves out. At that time, the water account will default to the owner of the residence or building.
4. NEW: With landlords now having to include water and wastewater in rent, will there be big increases
to rents in Oxford County?
Not necessarily. Right now, if a landlord is not paying for a unit’s water bill, the tenant is paying it through a monthly bill. If or when the bill is sent to the landlord instead, the tenant will be relieved of those monthly charges and no longer paying them personally. Whether it is included as part of rent or as a separate bill, tenants are already paying for water and wastewater.
5. NEW: Landlords are only able to increase rent by set amounts. How will they suddenly fold in these
new utility costs?
The draft by-law allows that if a rental unit is occupied on the date the by-law comes into effect, the change in account holder does not need to take place until the tenant moves out and a new tenant moves in. At this time, the landlord is able to set a rent that includes water and wastewater.
6. Can property owners or landlords ask to have the billing put in their name?
Yes. Property owners may request the bill to be put in their name at any point in time.
7. Can tenants still pay the water bill?
Yes, tenants—or anyone—can make payments to a water/wastewater account. However, if the account is in the property owner or landlord’s name, that person is responsible for making sure bills are paid on time.
Our billing partners--Erie Thames Power, ERTH Solutions and the Town of Tillsonburg-- will continue to accept payments from tenants or other non-owners (such as a property manager) as long as the person paying has the water billing account number. Please note: this account number will be different from the residence’s electricity or hydro account number.
8. NEW: Won’t the change in account holder name work against the County’s water conservation efforts because
people will waste water if they’re not seeing their usage and relating that to the cost of the bill?
Conservation is important and the County will continue to promote this message; we also believe most people understand this and will act responsibly. In the case of rental units, landlords are free to use incentives to encourage conservation, for instance, by refunding the rent allotment for water-wastewater if the tenant uses less than the estimated amount. Landlords can also install leak detection systems as well as low-flow fixtures, like toilets, shower heads, dishwashers and aerators on faucets. Landlords will be able to share the bill or consumption information with their tenant to help people track their own use.
9. Doesn’t the County have to allow water bills in the name of tenants?
No: there is no provincial legislative regulation as to who may be the account holder for water and wastewater services.
10. Is Oxford County the only municipality that doesn’t allow residential tenants to be the water account holder?
No: many municipalities require the water bill to be in the name of the property owner, regardless of customer type. Cambridge, Hamilton and Grimsby are examples.
1. UPDATED: What is vacancy billing, and why do I have to pay for water if I’m not using it?
Why do I need to pay a fee to shut water off?
Vacancy billing describes a flat rate standby charge applied when a residence is vacant but still connected to the water and/or wastewater system. The draft by-law includes a vacancy billing charge because it costs the County to continue to maintain services to properties even when they are vacant and when the water is shut off. The draft water by-law is introducing this charge to better align costs to the residences or homes that incur these costs, rather than adding them on to the overall system costs that are shared by all.
For now, the vacancy billing, or stand-by, charge has been set using the City of Woodstock’s fixed charges for water and wastewater, as they are the lowest rates in the County. This rate will be reviewed during the County’s rate study process in 2020.
Shutting off water when you're away for an extended period of time can help avoid potential damage to contents or property in the event of leaking, a burst pipe, or broken water meter. It should be noted that residents can shut their own water off at the shut-off valve next to their water meter. Then, it will only be the regular monthly charge that will be billed.
2. What is the monthly cost for vacancy billing?
Oxford County is working on setting a rate for vacant accounts moving forward. In the meantime, we are using a temporary rate that blends flat rate service charges across the County, which range from $25.85 to $99.18. Water and wastewater rates are being reviewed in 2020, at which time we will communicate the set rate for vacancy billing.
Temporary rates are:
Stand-by charge Monthly rate
Wastewater $ 8.75
Service fees and charges
1. Why is the County introducing new fees?
The Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, and other regulations require municipalities to make plans to ensure long term financial sustainability of their drinking water systems. When we compared administrative charges used by Oxford County against fees and charges used by other municipalities, we saw a need to better match our service fees to the financial costs of maintaining the water system over the long-term, as well an opportunity to better ensure fairness and equity in how rates are maintained. The fee changes we are proposing address costs to our system by an individual customer rather than those costs that apply to the broader customer base, or all customers.
2. Where can I get more information?
If you have questions that haven’t been answered here, please send a message to email@example.com