Unpaid Water Bills, Liens, & Foreclosure In Ohio
One of the most surprising aspects of real estate law in Ohio is that individuals can have a lien placed on their property for failing to pay a water bill – a lien which can then lead to foreclosure and losing your home – a move which, to many, sounds far too extreme. This has been especially frustrating to a number of Ohio consumers who insist that, since Smart Meters were placed in their homes, questionable water usage was reported and issues of meters not correctly calibrated started circulating. As a result, thousands of Ohio consumers have faced losing their homes to foreclosure over erroneous water bills.
In the face of such practices, Ohio consumers have a number of protections afforded to them, including the right to be notified and provided with a hearing to dispute charges, as afforded by procedural due process rights.
Ohio Law & Procedure Regarding Unpaid Water Bills & Tax Liens
Ohio law allows a past due water bill to be placed as a tax lien on a customer’s property, which then places that property at a higher risk of mortgage and/or tax foreclosure and its owner at risk of eviction. The County treasurer has the ability to initiate the foreclosure, and if the court enters a foreclosure judgment, the home or the lien on the home can be sold at auction to pay off that debt. If the lien is purchased, after one year, that purchaser can then file litigation to foreclose on the property and the homeowner officially loses ownership and is evicted.
Sadly, in some cities in Ohio, this practice has been somewhat common, and thousands of residents have found themselves facing water liens on their property, which then lead to tax foreclosure.
This can also be done via escrow accounts, whereby increases in mortgage payments due to escrow deficiencies have become a primary driver of foreclosure: The mortgage lenders or servicers will increase a borrower’s monthly payment after covering delinquent water debts, without the knowledge of the homeowner. As a result, a number of Ohio homeowners have no idea that a water lien has been placed on their property until they experience an increased escrow payment.
This practice of converting water debt to liens on property significantly diminishes home equity and places residents at a much greater risk of foreclosure and eviction. Pursuant to court decisions in Ohio, as well as overall due process rights, utility companies must provide constitutionally sufficient notice to customers about their right to a hearing prior to disconnecting their service, and state and local governments cannot deprive individuals of their property interests without due process of the law. This notice includes meaningful relief and an opportunity to be heard, where the right to contest one’s bill and to be heard is linked to the ability to then prevent the subsequent foreclosure process.
In addition, if there a racial or other discriminatory factor involved in the lien, rights under the Fair Housing Act and Ohio Civil Rights Act can also be invoked.
Columbus, Ohio Foreclosure Defense Attorneys
If you are facing a lien on your property and/or foreclosure, contact our Ohio foreclosure defense attorneys at the Kohl & Cook Law Firm LLC today to find out how we can help.