Belton water policy under fire - KCTV5

Belton water policy under fire

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BELTON, MO (KCTV) -

A Belton man says the city is overstepping its bounds - using condemnation notices to get water bills paid.

"They simply used this as an intimidation tactic so that I would pay the bill," David Mayse contended.

Mayse got a notice posted on his home on Monday, indicating his house was condemned. Next to the reason for posting are the words "no water." It indicated the building must be vacated within four hours, and anyone on the premises after that time "will be prosecuted."

"Standard procedure seems to be, pay the bill or we're going to slap one of these on your door and kick you out," Mayse said.

According to Assistant City Manager Brad Foster, it is procedure, sort of. He indicated shutoffs occur on Thursday and notices to vacate are posted the following Monday if water service is not restored by then. He said the notices are a standard form, the same form that would be posted if a home that was otherwise in good order had its electricity taken out by fire.

"Our codes enforcement officers have seen some pretty horrible circumstances in homes without water service," Foster explained. "You have to be able to flush the toilet."

But Mayse said he could flush the toilet, among other things, because he bought jugs of bottled water to tide him over until he could settle the bill, which he calculated he would be able to do the following Monday.

"It was inconvenient," Mayse described, "but we had plenty of water. We did our dishes, we flushed our toilets. We lived basically a normal life even though we had no flowing water coming into the house."

The notice indicates, "This structure has been found to be unfit for human habitation in accordance with the International Property Maintenance Code Section 108."

That section refers to "unsafe structures and equipment." It indicates, "A structure is unfit for human occupancy whenever a code official finds such structure is unsafe, unlawful or, because of the degree to which the structure is in disrepair."

It goes on to note circumstances such as lack of sanitation, rat infestation, filth, and lack of illumination. The closest reference to water service cites a "lack of sufficient ... plumbing system ... determined by the code official to be a threat to life or health."

Mayse said it would be jumping to conclusions to assume such conditions existed simply because he had no water service from the city. He also said he never had an inspector enter the home to look around and never received notice or warning about repercussions beyond a service disconnect.

"It's their duty as city employees to at least give a courtesy investigation before they make decisions that are so damaging to a family," he said.

Mayse said his 10-year-old son was there when the inspector posted the notice. At his age, Mayse said, the boy understood just enough to be scared.

"He came inside and started packing a suitcase while he was crying," Mayse said.

Foster said shutoffs occur when a bill is 45 days delinquent. He said Mayse has had his water shut off three times since he first started getting bills in April. Mayse said the other two times, he paid within a day after being disconnected, so he did not encounter a notice of condemnation before.

When asked whether a city official should actually witness the negative circumstances that informed the procedure before posting a notice, Foster responded, "Why wait for it to become horrible when we can address it upfront?"

Foster responded to a series of questions from KCTV5 up until the close of business and said he was working to get additional answers from a codes inspector, whom he expected to reach on Friday.

Mayse did not have to leave his home. He paid his past-due bill about an hour after receiving the condemnation notice. His water service was restored five minutes after his payment was received.

The Kansas City Water Department does not condemn a person's property after it shuts off their water.

Click here to read the Code being cited by the city of Belton for posting a notice to vacate when water service is disconnected.

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