As a municipal utility, Muscoda Utilities is permitted by Wisconsin Statute 66.0809 to place unpaid utility bills on the tax roll as a lien. Although the statute is fairly broad, it is our general practice to file tax liens against a property where an unpaid balance remains on the utility account.
One of the primary reasons for the statute is the fact that rates charged by public utilities are not designed to earn a profit, and bad debts are therefore not easily absorbed. Utilities cannot choose their customers nor can they typically require that customers pay a security deposit. Since we are not able to collect deposits from all customers, we encourage landlords to collect a security deposit sufficient to cover utility bills, to avoid having to take responsibility for non-payment. We also encourage landlords to verify that utility bills have been paid in full before refunding security deposits.
If we do not receive payment from the renter or landlord by October 10, we will send a letter to both parties with notification of a pending tax lien against the property to be filed on November 15.
If paid by the landlord between October 10 and November 15, it affords the landlord the ability to file a notice of lien against the tenant’s personal assets.
If paid by the tenant by November 15, no further action is required by the landlord or utility.
Unpaid past due charges remaining on November 15 will become a lien on the property and included on the property tax bill.
HOW CAN A PROPERTY OWNER/LANDLORD SEEK COST RECOVERY FOR PAST DUE AMOUNTS PAID BY THE PROPERTY OWNER ON THE TENANT’S BEHALF?
Statutory provisions effective in 2015 (as part of 2013 Wisconsin Act 274), provide an option for property owners. Statute 66.0809 describes that a property owner can obtain and file a lien against a residential tenant’s personal assets for payment made from landlord funds for the tenant’s past due utility charges.
This provision is available when the property owner does not have a security deposit available for the unpaid utility bill, and only in cases of residential rental property. Additionally, the property owner’s payment for the tenant’s utility charges must be made to the utility (either directly or through payment of the property taxes) after October 10. Once the payment is made, the property owner has until April 15 to file a lien against the tenant’s personal assets. It is our understanding that this process is rather simple and requires only a small fee to the County Clerk of Court for the filing.