Overdue light bill sends 23 looking for housing
Following 10 days of warnings the power and water went off at the Old AC Apartments on Saturday, Feb. 4, leaving about 23 residents without power, sewer and water, due to non-payment of a substantial bill in arrears, according to John K. Handeland, utility director.
“It is unfortunate this action had to be taken. It was not taken lightly or without attempts to come to an amicable resolution to settle,” Handeland said. “Nonpayment of rent appears to be a factor contributing to the inability to satisfy the owner’s obligations.”
On Monday, Feb. 13, the residential part of the building remained without power. Pipes have been drained, including the sprinklers, to prevent freezing, according to John Sackett, one of the owners.
Sackett said Monday that he could not say when the bill would be satisfied so power would go on, as he was only an employee of the business.
“I’m just a worker here,” Sackett said.
State corporation database listed Windrow and Mark Sackett as principles in several Nome businesses, including Mark’s Soap and Suds, LLC. Mark Sackett was not contacted at deadline.
“This will happen to other people. The economy won’t let people pay their rent so the owners can pay their bills,” John Sackett said. “The high cost of energy is pulling money out of tills in town.
People can’t survive here anymore. We are going to continue to lose good people,” John Sackett said.
Sacketts’ AC Apartments tenants found the following notice on their doors dated Feb. 24: “The Nome Joint Utility is shutting electric and water by Friday 27 of January, do[sic] to apartments open and people not paying rent. Please make arrangements to leave apartment complex. If I can make payment by Friday, we will get another month. Thanks. Please pay cash or cashiers check. John Sackett.”
At public meetings, the NJUS Board of Directors and NJUS staff have discussed for several years promissory notes signed on other properties owned by the Sackett family; the AC property was not part of these legal payment arrangements, according to Handeland.
“The board has been advised of this issue with the AC Apartments,” he said.
NJUS had posted notices also, beginning 10 days before turning off the power and water. NJUS staff could paper apartment doors with the pink notices, as the outside door of the apartment building remains locked.
The NJUS tariff requires 48 hours notice before turning off power in a private residence and five days’ notice if there is a landlord-tenant relationship. NJUS usually posts the turn-off notices on the door Thursday or Friday with a final date of Tuesday, meaning residents have the weekend to work on paying the bill. No service cutoffs will be made on Thursday or Friday, according to the tariff. NJUS posted the first notice on Jan. 25 that the power would go off on Jan. 30.
Meanwhile, an employer found temporary housing for his employees. Some residents went to Alaska Legal Services to get help, according to Handeland. ALS called Handeland who referred the issue to the City’s attorney. Handeland delayed the shutoff to allow more time for the AC resident to find housing. Another pink notice posted on Jan. 27 gives the cutoff time as Feb. 4 at 9:00 a.m. The Nome Joint Utility Systems operating tariff makes bills due and payable when sent out and allows disconnection for nonpayment. The tariff makes exceptions for residences occupied by a person seriously ill, elders, handicap, or dependent on life support systems. Others receive a cutoff notice giving them 48 yours in advance of the intent to cut off utilities. If NJUS knows a landlord-tenant relationship exists, other measures apply. If residences are individually metered, the resident is given the option of putting the utility account in his name; if the premises are served by a master meter and the landlord is a consumer, who would otherwise be subject to disconnection, each tenant served through the mater meter will be given individual notice by the utility of the pending disconnection at east 5 days in advance.
In cases where the tenant is consumer of the utility and is subject to disconnection, the utility will attempt to notify the landlord in writing of the opportunity to subscribe for the service provided at the tenant’s premises. If the landlord declines to subscribe to service or arrange for payment of the delinquency within 10 days after written notice is mailed or delivered to the landlord, then NJUS may disconnect service without further notice.