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Did You Know Unpaid Water Bills May Increase Property Tax Bills?

Water and sewer bills have doubled in the last 10 years and will continue to increase.[1] These increased costs make paying the bills hard for families with low and fixed incomes. When a water bill is not paid for several months, the amount owed may show up on a homeowner’s property tax bill. As a result, the property tax bill is much higher than expected.

How can that happen?  Ohio law allows a city water department, like the Cleveland Water Department, to send the overdue amount on a water account to the county treasurer’s office. The treasurer then adds an “assessment” (charge) on the tax bill for the property. This process is sometimes called “liening” the water account or placing a water lien on the property. When the homeowner next pays their property tax bill, some of that money will be sent to the water department to pay off the amount owed and clear the lien from the property.

The “water lien” process is typically a last resort after the water department has tried all other ways to collect the amount owed, including stopping the water service.   Before the water department can place a lien on a property, it must give notice to the account holder. The Cleveland Water Department sends two (2) letters to the homeowner to let them know of their plan to add the water charges onto the property tax bill. The first notice is sent to the homeowner four (4) months before the charge is applied to the property tax bill and a final notice is sent one (1) month before the charge is applied.

If a homeowner gets a notice from the water department about the plan to assess the unpaid water charges onto the property tax bill, the homeowner should take action! To avoid the assessment, homeowners will typically need to make a lump sum payment of 25% of the amount owed and then enter into a payment plan with the water department for the rest of the amount owed on the account. Once the homeowner is on a payment plan, the water department will reconnect the water service and will not place a lien on the property as long as the homeowner continues to make payments.

More information about water bills can be found at

This article was written by Katherine Hollingsworth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 1. 

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