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Eagle Nest tenants complain about utility billing

Scraping up the money to pay bills is a practice all too common in the down economy; but scrounging for money only feels right if the bill is fair for a necessary service.

The numbers aren’t matching up for a group of tenants in the Eagle Nest Apartments; they can’t figure out why their water bills are double what others pay in a comparable situation.

“Whether we are here, gone, on a trip or vacation, no matter what we do, it doesn’t make a difference,” said tenant Catherine Martinez. “We’ve tried stuff like shower heads that cut down on water use; people here have exhausted all of those options. But the bill remains the same. Something tells us this process is not balanced.”

Martinez is one of several residents who sought help from the Bainbridge Island City Council last week. She said she is paying roughly $113 per month for water, sewer and solid waste for the two bedroom apartment she lives in with her husband. Martinez filed a complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office and is collecting information from other interested tenants to make a case.

There are three buildings in the 40-unit complex and each has its own laundromat facility where tenants pay to use the washer and dryer.

Jana Rice started making calls when her daughter, who is a tenant in the complex, said she could only afford to shower every three days because her water bill cost between $115 and $150 per month. Rice started making phone calls and discovered that people have complained about the building for years.

When Rice contacted Adam Landry, the property manager for Eagle Nest and an employee for Cornell & Associates Inc. in Seattle, she received a reaction she wasn’t expecting.

“All of a sudden he had the power to change the bill and out of the blue he said: ‘I’ll just cut their bills and get it over with. A one-bedroom apartment will pay $50 and a two-bedroom $60.’ It was bizarre. Something’s not right,” said Rice.

In a phone conversation with the Review, Landry said the apartments are individually metered and have been for eight or nine years. He said the owner of the complex doesn’t recoup all the utility costs as is, but is still willing to slash the prices by more than 50 percent. Tenants will be charged $50 for a one-bedroom apartment and $75 for a two-bedroom unit for their water, sewer and solid waste on their next bill.

“We try and keep the costs down by sub-metering so people have to save,” said Landry. “When people aren’t responsible for water a lot of them don’t care and use as much as they want. Bills go down when actual water usage goes down.”

Landry said lowering the bill was an effort to save the tenants money since they complained, even though it will cost Cornell more money.

Lisa Turner from Minol Management, the third party company that individually bills the residents on behalf of Cornell, said that the building only tracks hot water usage, and subtracts that number from the total usage every month to determine what to charge residents. She said Cornell absorbed 5 percent of the bill before, but will take a much bigger chunk as Landry proposed.

For now, Martinez said she is trying to gather as much information as possible like determining what agreements each of the renters signed, until she hears back from the state. Martinez said her agreement states the renter is to be charged for “utilities billed as used,” but she has seen another renters agreement that states the renter will also pay a portion of the total usage for the complex.

Landry said everyone should be on the same program.

“We are going to spend another few weeks to determine whether we have a case here,” Martinez said.

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