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Transcript: Mayor Adams Mayor Adams Demands Water Bill Dodgers To Pay Debt Or Risk Losing Water Access

March 20, 2024

Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala, Department of Environmental Protection: …Rit Aggarwala, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the city's water and sewer operations. We are here today to talk about keeping water rates low for everyday New Yorkers and holding property owners accountable to pay their fair share so we can continue to provide the best drinking water in the world.

To talk more about this, let me introduce New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you so much, Rit, and you and your team over at DEP.

We're here to talk about Hotel Hayden. They consider themselves to be one of the coolest and hippest hotels in the city. There's nothing cool or hip by keeping $400,000 in out-due water bills. This is part of approximately 2,400 other flagrant violators of the water bills that they're supposed to pay, about $40,000 per location.

And we're sending a clear and loud message: you only have to pay a penny a gallon for water in New York City. And the reason you're able to do that is because we upkeep our water system and other New Yorkers pick up the tab for these water costs.

When we have violators like the Hayden Hotel, it sends the wrong message that you have low and moderate income New Yorkers, homeowners, property owners who are doing their share but large commercial establishments are not doing theirs.

That is not going to continue to happen. We're going to place a sticker on the hotel's front, and we're going to send a loud message: you have two weeks. We've tried everything. We tried to communicate with you. Our goal is never to turn off your water, our goal is to get you to pay your water bill.

Folks have saved millions of dollars by taking us up on our amnesty offer. Hayden, you need to do your job as well. When you don't pay your bill, low-income New Yorkers have to pick up the tab. That is why we don't want to increase water rates in this city. We want to keep it affordable. A penny a gallon. You can pay a penny a gallon. Pay your bill, if not, we will shut off your water.

Commissioner Aggarwala: As the mayor said, we don't want to shut off a single New Yorker's water. We would much rather prefer to get delinquent customers to pay or to get them into a payment agreement.

Last year, DEP offered an unprecedented amnesty program; and in fact, at the mayor's request we extended it because it was doing so well. Through that amnesty program, 100,000 delinquent New Yorkers got up to date with their water bill. We forgave $22 million in payments and fines, and we got $105 million in cash that allowed us to keep last year's water rate from going up as high as it was expected to.

But the accounts that we're going after now like the Hotel Hayden are chronically and egregiously behind. Often they just refuse to engage with us despite numerous outreach attempts. They're trying to ghost us and hope that we forget about their bills. But we can't forget, because the rest of us are left picking up the tab, and that's not fair.

The money we collect is used by DEP to keep water rates low. This money allows us to reinvest in the system, a system that supplies half of New York State with the most delicious drinking water in the world.

During the pandemic, DEP saw a significant increase in the number and balance of delinquent accounts; and currently, $1.3 billion are owed to our water system. A lot of customers fell behind.

Another contributing factor to this outstanding debt is that the City Council has not renewed the city's ability to undertake lien sales, which allow us to put liens on buildings that have outstanding bills. That was previously our main enforcement tool.

And we've even seen people where they are paying their property taxes but not their water bill, because they think there are no repercussions to not paying the water bill. So, absent lien sales, our only recourse is water shutoffs; and if we do have to shut off the water, the only way you can get water service turned back on is to pay the outstanding bill or enter into a payment agreement with a down payment, and you have to pay a $1,000 service restoration fee.

The water shutoff notices we've been sending out are the end of the line. In any case, whenever we get to this point, we have been sending months and months' worth of notices and robocalls to let people know — no one can say they didn't know they owed us money — and we have offered the programs for forgiveness and for low-income homeowners that help people get back into the black.

Earlier this year, we sent out water shutoff warning letters and were able to recoup more than $3 million in one go from more than 400 overdue accounts. We will also soon be starting legal procedures against co‑ops, condos and rental apartment buildings that are delinquent.

So, we hope you'll help us get the word out today to help us keep water rates low and prevent someone from losing water. Thank you.

Question: I do have a question, actually. Has the administration made any overtures to the City Council to get that lien sale situation sorted out, and if so, what overtures were made and what was the…

Mayor Adams: Our Intergovernmental Affairs team, we have been in constant communication. No one likes lien sales. All of us, as a property owner, I don't want it as well. But you do, you need tools to send a message for frequent violators such as property tax, water bills. That is how we fairly keep down the cost across the entire city.

And we're going to continue to communicate with the Council to see if we could put in place some form of lien sale that's fair, because we don't want to take property from New Yorkers based on taxes or water bills, but you do have to pay the cost of running the city.

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