Several village renters critical of current Potsdam water rates, financial threats of landlord
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — Several village renters were critical of the municipality’s current water rates and of their landlord for threatening to pass the cost down to them.
Tenants who rent at Swan Landing and Meadow East, both owned by Montreal businessman Brian Wolofsky, were on hand at the village board of trustees meeting Monday, Jan. 23 to speak out on the issue.“In the past couple of years the recalculation of how water is determined in terms of apartments has just spiked those bills ridiculously,” said Libby Stanavage, a Swan Landing renter. She said she rents in the village due to the accessibility. “But the cost of the water has really transformed in a way which is really making it much less affordable to live in the village.”
Stanavage said that she is a tenured college professor that works full time. “But it's a bill that has really increased dramatically in a way that I haven’t seen in other bills,” she said.
Hans Beck, a Meadow East tenant, also spoke out.
“The last few months we have been getting emails from our landlord saying, because of the issues with the village on water, that we will have to cover his cost of the water retroactively despite many of the bills. In our contracts, he is responsible for the water. It is clear,” Beck said.
Beck said Wolofsky is not making an investment into the properties in his opinion. “I think he wants to, but I don’t know if he can manage the properties.”
“So the idea of canceling an element of the contract because of a village action was unforeseen. I think it’s unfair and I… don’t think he should be allowed to pass those costs on to us under contract,” Beck said.
Lauren Jackson Beck, Beck’s wife, was even more critical.
“I would like to also say that he is threatening all of us with $1,200 water bills for this next year,” Jackson Beck said.
“Not only is he sending us bills for this past year, he’s saying he owes over a hundred and twenty some thousand dollars and he can’t afford to pay it,” she said. “Well he also can’t afford to fix the leaks on the roof.”
“We have one apartment where the new roofing is sitting on top of the building and it's been there since last year,” said Jackson Beck.
Jackson Beck said tenants are being told that the water billing situation is a real issue and that one of the village’s vendors absconded with money and that is why the village is trying to pass on expenses to the residents in the village water bills. “I don’t know if that’s true or false or not, but that’s what we are being told,” she said.
“The rental properties in the town are crap. And everything is rundown and it's dilapidated and it's a shame,” Jackson Beck said. “I’m not sure if this is people not wanting to put money into their properties and just live off of it and not take care or whether there is a real reason for this. It’s not my job to figure out the reason.”
“I have no intention of paying these water bills. It’s in our contract,” she said.
Jackson Beck, a SUNY Potsdam employee, said she and her husband are looking for a house to purchase, but said they wouldn’t buy one in the village or town. “Can’t afford the taxes,” she said.
Jackson Beck said many students live at the two apartment buildings. “These students do not have time to futz with this issue,” she said.
“At the very least, this town needs to get some oversight over these damn landlords. Oh, excuse my French, over the landlords,” she said. “Because I think they are pulling a fast one, and they’re certainly not coming up to speed. Now, why this guy has a $130,000 water bill, I don’t know. Maybe that’s legit, maybe it isn’t.”
She said she would like to see all the water billing information put up on the village website clearly so residents can see what is happening.
“But it seems to me that the citizens who rent these properties are being left holding the bag,” she said.
Wolofsky has been highly critical of the village and its administrator over what he believes is an unfair system of billing residents and landlords for water usage. He has written several letters to the editor of North Country This Week skewering village officials, and, along with other landlords, has spoken out against the system at village board meetings over the last year.
The landlord previously had sued the village over his water bill, but lost the decision only to appeal and have the appeal denied in late December, said a source close to the village.
Village water bills are calculated using an “equivalent dwelling unit” or EDU billing system developed by the Development Authority of the North Country in 2018.
Owners of apartment buildings in the village have issues with the law because under the system commercial apartment buildings are billed for fixed water and sewer costs at one EDU per apartment, the same as an entire single family house using 120 gallons of water a day, even if the apartment is a single occupancy studio apartment. The landlords and apartment owners think this system bills them more than they feel is fair for the actual usage that is happening.
After several apartment owners, including Wolofsky, spoke out on the issue last year, village officials discussed the water billing system and at one time even considered bringing DANC in to help evaluate parts of it. However, those discussions did not lead to any action by the board and currently there are no discussions about changing the water billing process at the village level.