Council OK’s liens for garbage bill non-payment

A motion to place liens on 127 Gilroy properties with tenants who haven’t paid their trash bills for a minimum of 120 days reluctantly received a passing vote by the City Council Monday. Council members said they are legally bound to approve it because of city health codes.
Recology South Valley, the company that holds an exclusive trash collecting contract with the city, claims the total of outstanding bills from Gilroy homes is $35,131. Recology sent letters to homeowners with outstanding bills in April, giving them a June 15 payment deadline.
“There’s got to be a better way,” Mayor Al Pinheiro said. “It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Pinheiro, a landlord himself, doesn’t understand why a homeowner is punished for a bill the tenant does not pay, questioning why Recology can’t just stop service to the tenants who don’t pay – or take some other credit action against the tenants, not the homeowner.
Recology provided Council with a list of those who haven’t paid their trash bill – about half of whom also own of the property – and how much each of them owes.
Council passed the lien proposal unanimously under the condition that a 30-day extended grace period is granted to residents who ask for it, an idea suggested by Councilman Bob Dillon.
“Someone who takes the time to respond will probably pay,” Dillon said.
The permission to put city-enforced liens on homeowners with outstanding accounts comes on the heels of Council’s passing of 5.4 percent increase for Recology services in May.
Councilman Perry Woodward, who was absent for Monday’s meeting, spoke out against the service rate increase during Council’s May 7 meeting, but acknowledged that the city is locked into a 20-year contract that began in 1997, and as long as Recology raises rates within the bounds of that contract, the city can’t do anything to stop them.
After July 1, when the new rates become effective, one 32-gallon residential bin will cost $28.25 monthly, up from $26.80.
Gilroy landlord Cheryl Carlotta railed into Recology for raising their rates, and to the city for signing a contract that allows it.
“Face it, if I had a choice to pay my Recology bill or go to the store and have a meal for my family, I’d get a meal for my family,” Carlotta said. “And now they’re going to put liens on people’s houses who can’t pay their garbage bill? That’s unreal.”
As a landlord who deals with tenants who sometimes struggle to pay rent, Carlotta said that many rental homes in the area are just a hair from foreclosure – and a lien, even for just a few hundred dollars – could be what pushes them over the edge.
“If this were the economy 10 years ago, and the trash company wanted to do this, I’d say ’go for it.’ But with people already flat on their backs like they are, now is not a good time to grind them.”
Phil Couchee, general manager at Recology, said that Gilroy residents are required to get weekly trash pickup, even if they don’t fill the whole container. Couchee said Morgan Hill, which Recology also services, does not use a lien process, but gives residents who don’t pay the ability to stop service.

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