By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre Chapter of the Montana Landlord's Association has threatened to sue the city of Havre over a longstanding water billing dispute.
Milton Datsopoulos, an attorney based out of Missoula, has been hired to represent the Havre Chapter of the MLA and several other independent landlords who own and operate rental property in Havre.
"This class-action lawsuit against the city of Havre has been brewing for the last number of years," Brad Lotton, a spokesman for the Havre MLA, said in a press release. "It revolves around the city ordinance requiring a person to be a property owner in order to be provided water service in their own name."
In a June 23 letter to the city of Havre and Mayor Bob Rice, Datsopoulos stated, "I am prepared to initiate a class-action lawsuit against the City of Havre if the illegalities pertaining to this issue are not stopped."
The letter from Datsopoulos claims that the "illegalities" of the city of Havre include "unfair and deceptive practices under MCA 30-14-103, in using your superior bargaining position to force various landlords to sign an application for water for their tenants' usage It is completely the province and duty of the City of Havre to collect water payments from its users, not the duty of the landlords."
Phone calls to Datsopoulos, Lotton and city attorney Jim Kaze were not returned Thursday or today. Rice declined to comment.
Havre landlords have been responsible for water bills since 1997, when the water policy was changed after a contentious public debate. Landlords say they're tired of getting stuck with large water bills by tenants who waste water or leave without paying the bill. In 2003 and 2004, landlords launched a 10-month sustained effort to get the Havre City Council to change the ordinance back so the tenants would be held responsible for their own water bills. But the landlords' efforts proved futile. In a 5-4 vote on May 3, 2004, council members chose not to change the ordinance.
"We don't want to go to court," local landlord Charles Grant said Thursday. "But we've tried negotiating with the city for over a year to reach an out-of- court settlement, and it hasn't worked. So we have no other choice."
Lotton's press release said, "(We) were prodded on many occasions by numerous council people and city officials to 'just take it to court if you think you have a case.' We do and we are!"
Alec Hansen, executive director of Montana League of Cities and Towns, has said Havre is like most cities in Montana, who make the property owner responsible for collecting the water bill.