Deposit Dilemma

One of the issues facing entry level workers is the issue of deposits. There is a deposit required for a rental unit. (In the case of a new home buyer, it’s the down payment.) There is a deposit required to get water turned on. There is a deposit required to get the gas turned on. There is a deposit required to get the electric turned on. For someone just starting out, this can be daunting. When someone moves, theoretically they’ll get their deposits back from the previous rental, but not before they have to put them down for the new place.

These have come about due to landlords, municipalities and utilities getting burned by tenants and homeowners skipping out on bills. For that reason, the justification for deposits is there. But… how often is this an issue in the first month when all the deposits are required? I would venture to say that 9 times out of 10, this is an end of occupancy issue, not a starting problem. Theoretically, the landlord renting to the tenant or the bank making the loan on a new purchase have vetted the tenant’s ability to afford their housing choice at least initially.

Riverside Commons Plymouth

The new housing in Plymouth at Riverside Commons is geared towards lower wage earners. People that are good workers with steady income, but not at a level to afford good housing. These units are 100% electric and on city water and sewer, so there are only three deposits required. Unfortunately, Plymouth’s deposit requirement for water is $150. REMC, which provides the electric, has a deposit of $350, plus a $10 membership fee for the co-op. That’s $500+ in deposits without counting the rental deposit. This does not make it easy for a renter to move from substandard housing to the new units. The Paddocks in Culver runs into similar issues qualifying tenants, though I don’t think the start-up costs for water, sewer and electric are quite as high.

So, here’s what I would like to suggest for municipalities:

  1. Municipalities create an account for delinquent and non-payed utilities. To put a number at it, I would suggest $10,000. In lieu of just being a line item, put this into an interest bearing account, so there is some modest growth. (Placing it with Marshall County Community Foundation would be a way to double down on doing good and possibly earn a bit more.)
  2. Set the deposit rate at a number easily divided by 12. For example $120 in lieu of Plymouth’s $150.
  3. Ask for the full deposit at hook-up as done now, with an option for half down and the remainder paid as a surcharge on the first 6 water bills. A convenience fee of a couple dollars could be added if deemed necessary.
    • The Clerk would be better able to answer this, but I would assume that non-payment rarely happens in the first couple of months, but is more likely at the end of service when the tenant or homeowner has moved. By then, the deposit would have been fulfilled.
  4. Put ALL utility deposits in the above interest bearing account.
    • According to this site, there are 3,868 households in Plymouth. So, theoretically, there is an escrow account managed by the Clerk holding $580,200 in water & sewer deposits. If you reduced that to $120, as I suggested, then there’d still be $468,160 at any given time. Ignoring the current interest rate hovering around 5% (MCCF should be better), a 1% return would be $4,642 a year. That could cover quite a few no pays.
    • According to this site, there are 592 households in Culver. (I think that’s pretty low and must be only counting fulltime residents.) Culver only has a $75 deposit, which is only about half again the cost of a minimum water/sewer bill. So, theoretically, there is an escrow account managed by the Clerk holding $44,400 in sewer & water deposits. Under the same conservative 1%, the return would be $444 per year. That’s not going to cover as much, but it would still cover some.
    • I don’t know this, but I assume the current practice is to just mingle this money in the General Fund. That means the initial deposit is tracked for repayment, but any return (interest) on the General Fund account just goes back in the General Fund. If tracked separately, then that interest helps defer any non-payment costs. Obviously less effective in lower population municipalities, but still a factor.
    • I also assume there are older accounts that had smaller deposit requirements, where the deposit has never risen. I’m just using round numbers, so the associated Clerks would probably want to set that straight, but I think the concept is reasonable. While I know that the utilities are supposed to be self-sufficient, every residential unit pays taxes to the municipality and over time, there is some reasonable cost of doing business.
  5. Put all late fees in this account as well. This would act as an additional hedge.

The above isn’t a panacea, but it would help low-income workers with a hand up that shouldn’t hurt the municipality much, if any. If the same principles could be applied to private utilities and maybe even rents, then it would be an equitable way of solving the insurance provided by deposits, while reducing the penalty those deposits put on low income individuals and families. This is just the beginning of a thought on a possible solution… But I think it is something worth consideration and refinement.

2 Responses to Deposit Dilemma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright 2011 - Easterday Construction Company, Inc. - All rights reserved.