A West Boise ditch company has entered into an agreement with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to stop charging extra fees to customers and placing liens on their homes over illegal charges.
If the company doesn’t comply with the terms of the agreement, customers can file a complaint with the state to have it enforced.
This comes after a BoiseDev investigation over the summer revealed the Shavrer Lateral Water User Association placed liens on the properties of seven homeowners since December of last year. Of the seven, four raised concerns in interviews about a few small unpaid bills ballooning into balances upwards of hundreds of dollars and difficulty reaching anyone who works for Shavrer. One of those interviewed questioned whether he was legally billed at all after fighting to get off the organization’s rolls for years.
The AG’s office opened an investigation into the matter due to BoiseDev’s reporting.
The agreement, which was filed with the Fourth District Court on October 25, said Shavrer Lateral WUA’s actions “constitute multiple and separate violations” of Idaho law. By signing the five-year-long agreement, Shavrer Lateral still denies any wrongdoing, but they agree to abide by the rules set out by the AG instead of going to court.
This agreement also means Shavrer Lateral waives its rights to contest any legal actions the AG’s office takes against the ditch company to enforce this agreement. It also doesn’t mean the AG officially endorses any of Shavrer Lateral’s “acts, practices, procedures, policies, advertising, techniques, or activities.”
It also doesn’t prevent any private party from bringing legal action against Shavrer Lateral.
What happened in the investigation?
After BoiseDev provided a set of documents outlining the billing practices for Shavrer Lateral to the AGs office, the Consumer Protection Division decided to look into the matter.
The state sent a letter to the Shavrer Lateral WUA board in late July inquiring about their billing practices and received a response at the end of August after a second letter went out, according to previous public records requests from BoiseDev. Shavrer Lateral’s board responded with its bylaws, amended bylaws and some board minutes, all of which showed the organization was billing customers with several charges unauthorized by code.
These illegal charges identified by the AGs office include a yearly collection fee, a fee to review a customer account after 30 days of an unpaid bill, costs to file a lien and release a lien, fees to send a registered letter, a service fee a $50 collection fee after six months of not paying and an “information fee.”
“The Association’s water users never agreed to pay these Unauthorized Assessments, Fees, Costs, Penalties, or Interest, and the Association was not statutorily authorized to assess the Unauthorized Assessments, Fees, Costs, Penalties, or Interest,” the agreement says. “Also, water users’ past payments of the Unauthorized Assessments, Fees, Costs, Penalties, or Interest does not make them lawful or mean water users knowingly agreed to pay the Unauthorized Assessments, Fees, Costs, Penalties, or Interest.”
Instead, now Shavrer Lateral agrees to only charge customers for what it costs to to operate, repair improve and maintain the ditch along with compensation for staff. The association also agrees to only charge customers who haven’t paid their bills a penalty of 10% and another 10% of interest yearly, as well as costs and “reasonable” attorney’s fees if Shavrer Lateral has to go to court to collect an unpaid assessment.
The agreement also says Shavrer Lateral cannot put a lien on someone’s property for failing to pay any of these unauthorized fees. The Association agreed to “promptly” cancel any liens on properties that are solely based on unauthorized fees or once a homeowner has paid what they are legally allowed to be billed.
What should I do if I have a complaint?
If there is a dispute between anyone who is a customer of the Association over whether a lien should be removed or payments satisfied it, the customer can file a complaint with the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.
The complaint should include a description of the situation and any evidence about the matter. Within ten days, Shavrer Lateral WUA must provide a written response to the complaint and an itemized list of assessments, fees, costs, penalties and interest that are part of the lien.
“The Association is reviewing water users’ accounts for errors and working with its counsel to resolve those errors under the terms of the Assurance,” AG’s Office spokesperson Scott Graf wrote in an email. “We ask that water users be patient during this review process and we encourage them to work cooperatively with the Association to resolve their concerns. That said, if a water user is dissatisfied with how the Association resolved their account issues and believes the Association is being unresponsive, the water user is welcome to file a complaint with our office. We will work with the Association to ensure it resolves accounts as required by the Assurance.”
Graf said this agreement also could be used to remove billing for a homeowner, like one of the people highlighted in BoiseDev’s investigation, if they have given up their water rights, left Shavrer Lateral and are continuing to be billed.
You can file a complaint here. When filing, make sure to select “informal dispute resolution” instead of “informational purposes only” to ensure it is forwarded on to the correct staff members.