Council, City grapple with assessment issue after pandemic uncovers loophole
By Per Peterson
Not long after Sue and Jamie Moua moved into their new house in Tracy, the couple discovered a problem. It had nothing to do with the foundation of the house, or the plumbing. Instead, the issue that predated their arrival in their new abode was much more subtle.
They owed money, including an 8% penalty, on a utility bill that wasn’t theirs.
The Mouas, who bought their home in March and received another’s utility bill from February, are one of more than a dozen examples of new owners that have been stuck with a utility bill owed by a previous owner. Essentially, the problem was discovered because of a federal law that prevented the City of Tracy from turning off a homeowner’s water for non-payment during the pandemic. Because shut-offs were cancelled in 2020, the typical tracking of late fees and subsequent disconnections did not take place. Shut-offs normally take place after 60 days of non-payment, or when two unpaid bills have been issued.
“The main concern for myself and my wife is, we weren’t notified … we had no idea there was an outstanding bill,” Moua said in an address to the council Monday. “As a new homeowner, I know this stuff happens and I understand that COVID has affected how (the City) runs their business … my biggest concern is what are we going to do about that charge that is added on that the new homeowner had no idea was out there?”
Moua took a level-headed approach to his plight, but expressed his frustration about the issue and said new homeowners shouldn’t have to deal with previous owners’ indiscretions. And he said there is no reason anyone in his situation would agree to pay someone else’s utility bill.
“I love living here — the Hmong people have been here for 30 years, my family has been here for 29 years and this is home for me,” Moua said. “We just finally bought our home in Tracy, and this is the last thing that a homeowner wants to see happen, especially during a time where it’s going to be busy with the holidays; when you have something like this on your mind, on your heart, it takes away a lot of the joy.”
See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.