Regulator dismisses water meter complaints from mobile home owners
'I’m very disappointed that the utility and review board didn’t see it our way'
The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has dismissed a complaint three Halifax regional councillors filed over the owner of four mobile parks forcing residents to install costly water meters before they can sell their homes.
"I'm very disappointed that the utility and review board didn't see it our way," said one of the councillors, Lisa Blackburn, who represents District 14 Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville.
"I've always maintained that if this property owner is selling water to their residents, then that makes them a utility service provider and I still think that they should be overseen by the UARB. But unfortunately, they didn't see it that way."
The four parks are Woodbine Park (Beaver Bank), Sackville Estates (Lower Sackville), Alderwood Mobile Home Park (Lakeside) and Westphal Park (Dartmouth).
Mobile homes sit on rented lots. About 100 residents had told Blackburn that before they can put their homes up for sale, they are being required by park owner Heather Scott to pay for water meters costing between $250 and $500 apiece to be installed.
The parks are serviced by Halifax Water, but each is treated like a single large customer and is billed as such. The meters would instead allow the landlord to charge individual homeowners for their consumption.
In its Sept. 26 decision, the board found it had no jurisdiction under the Public Utilities Act to address the complaints.
"The fact that the landlord charges rates consistent with board-approved rates for Halifax Water does not make it a public utility," the decision said. "The board does not regulate rates charged by private utilities."
Blackburn said she was surprised with the board's ruling. She said she was also confused that Halifax Water "was completely hands off from this issue," because her understanding is its terms of reference dictate that water it sells to a customer cannot be resold.
"So if that's not what's happening here I don't know what is."
In a written complaint filed with the board earlier this year, Blackburn and two other municipal councillors, Lorelei Nicoll and Richard Zurawski, asked whether the provision of metered water service makes the landlord a private utility, and whether this would mean the water service provider would fall under the board's regulatory power.
The board's decision, Blackburn said, does not mean this is the end of the case. She said she and others will work with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service and try to come up with next steps to help residents out.
Mark Culligan, a community legal worker at Dalhousie Legal Aid, said while the service was not involved directly in the case, it has received numerous calls from tenants who live in the mobile home parks about their rights under the Residential Tenancies Act. Staff have passed those along to the councillors.
"I don't think that under the Residential Tenancies Act that all the concerns will be addressed," Culligan said. "And I think that there's a need for some sort of process to provide consumer protections to these tenants.
"And we're concerned that the decision of the utility and review board raises questions about whether tenants enjoy the same rights as homeowners with respect to consumer protections for utilities."
Halifax Water's response
In a written response to the councillors' complaint, Halifax Water said a land-lease community is a single property with multiples dwellings or units within it — comparable to a condominium.
"The owners of these communities own private water, wastewater and/or storm water piping within the property," it said.
"Halifax Water has a number of permitted and approved customers who own and operate land-leased communities using a master water meter serving the one property."
And within these land-lease communities, the water piping downstream of the master water meter may include sub-meters, which are owned and maintained by and at the expense of the customer.
The utility and review board regulates Halifax Water, as it is a public utility.
"Halifax Water bills the customer for services received, and the volumetric portion of the water and wastewater bills are based on the reading from the master meter. Halifax Water does not oversee or regulate rates downstream of the master meter," Halifax Water said in the documents.
Heather Scott, the landlord for the mobile home parks, could not be reached for comment.