EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Alberta Fox and her son were given some shocking news about the East Cleveland duplex they've been renting for more than 25 years, their water service was suddenly shut-off and they were told they had to move.
The 90-year-old suddenly discovered her landlord, Jeremiah K. Burks, wasn't paying the water bill, and according to Cuyahoga County records, hasn't paid property taxes on the home for nearly 10 years and owes more than $33,000.
Fox said she wasn't given any warning that her landlord slipped into foreclosure and lost his HUD section 8 voucher payments while she continued to pay rent month after month.
She told News 5 she doesn't understand why she wasn't notified earlier by the Cleveland Division of Water, CMHA or HUD that her landlord wasn't making payments.
“I don't have water for my medication that I can’t take, then I got to go to the bathroom, it’s frustrating, it’s nerve racking,” Fox said.
“We had gone somewhere and we came back and no water, no notification that were going to be cut it off.”
“Things that we didn’t know about, the water, the taxes, none of these things, we were in the dark."
East Cleveland Councilwoman Juanita Gowdy told News 5 too many renters in her ward are being exploited by landlords who are collecting rent, but aren't paying their bills.
Gowdy said renters are being victimized without notice, and she's demanding the water department impose that a mandatory water bill receipt be sent to tenants when their landlord is in charge of paying the bill.
She believes a mandatory payment receipt to tenants will insure payments are being made.
“It should be required, that should already be in place, it shouldn’t take this to happen to be in place," Gowdy said.
“The landlord should be held responsible, along with CMHA, section 8 and the water people.”
News 5 tried to reach Burks at the Bedford address listed on his property tax bill, but we're still waiting for a response.
News 5 contacted the Cleveland Division of Water and it responded quickly, temporarily restoring water service to the Fox family and their neighbor until new housing arraignments can be made.
The water department issued the following statement:
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention especially because one of the tenants is a senior. We will have a Department of Aging coordinator contact the tenant to assist with completing the agreement if they choose to go this route and to inform him/her of the various services that are available. In the interim, water services will be temporarily restored.
For privacy reasons, Cleveland Water doesn’t share specific customer or account information. However, our notification procedure for disconnections due to non-payment involves multiple letters sent to the billing address on file as well as door hangers placed at the service address.
Tenant Deposit Agreements are available to renters who wish to be responsible for the bill or who have lost water service due to a landlord’s non-payment. To set up a Tenant Deposit Account, a customer should visit our Customer Service Center at 1201 Lakeside Ave. with a copy of their lease agreement and a photo ID. A deposit based on the location of the property is also required."
News 5 also contacted CMHA about this case and CMHA said it is now working to get the Fox family and the family in the other unit a new places to live.
CMHA told News 5 notices were given, the organization issued following statement:
"CMHA is not a party to the foreclosure action but the foreclosure is a result of the owner’s failure to pay their property taxes.
Dialog between CMHA and the participants at this property began in May 2019 regarding the circumstance.
Subsidy paid to the owner stopped in April 2019 and a review of the participant’s file revealed that water is an owner obligation.
Although CMHA cannot require tenants to vacate their units, we do communicate about the status of their voucher.
Moving papers were also sent to the participant in November 2019.
The participant is looking for a new unit and we will expedite the process to help make the transition as smooth as possible. An individual from our team will follow her closely through this process."
Still, Fox maintains she and her family weren't given proper notification early enough to be prepared for such a major move and an interruption in her water service.
“It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and I want them to pay for this, the way they’ve done me," Fox said.
“It’s like a slap in the face, and then when they get to you, you’re not prepared, then all of a sudden you get the papers, you got to go.”
"I didn’t deserve this."