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After suspending the practice in March 2020, the San Antonio Water System will resume shutting off customers’ water service for nonpayment in October, officials said Tuesday.

At SAWS’ June board meeting, Vice President of Customer Experience Mary Bailey said the number of accounts more than 60 days past due has mounted from around 5,000 shortly before the coronavirus pandemic to more than 52,000 now.

SAWS officials said they’ll spend June and July spreading the word that disconnections will restart. Late fees will resume in August, with no retroactive late fees for existing balances. Customers who can’t pay their bills can ask SAWS to place them on a payment plan that would avoid a shut-off.

“Our plan is to make sure that our customers get the message that we can help,” Bailey said. “And we’ll work with them, if they will just reach out to us.”

Disconnections would follow in October. Bailey said SAWS won’t disconnect customers enrolled in payment plans. The focus is on getting customers to pay their current charges, along with at least some portion of past-due bills, she said.

“We know that the customers didn’t get into this situation overnight,” said Gavino Ramos, SAWS’ vice president of communications, at the meeting. “They’re not going to be able to come out of it overnight. What we’re going to do is work as hard as we can, internally, to make sure we keep their service running.”

At the meeting, Bailey and Ramos discussed resuming shut-offs at apartment complexes and other multifamily housing. In these cases, property owners maintain a SAWS account on behalf of multiple tenants and typically pass the costs on to tenants in the form of higher rent or fees. Tenants often have no control over whether their landlords are paying SAWS bills.

“We do have some large apartment complexes that are very significantly past due,” Bailey said, adding later that SAWS has been “very sensitive in the past when we’ve had to deal with a multifamily complex that has become delinquent.”

“We go through a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that we’re very careful about how that disconnection occurs, if it occurs at all,” Bailey said.

Property owners with past-due SAWS bills often are also behind on paying their CPS Energy bills, Bailey noted. The two utilities will often coordinate their collection efforts for large complexes, she said.

“We will put door hangers on every single apartment unit so that they understand that this is an issue where they’re paying their rent but their property management company is not paying us,” she said.

SAWS Trustee Amy Hardberger responded that she is “happy to hear that we’re trying to address that disconnect.”

“For all we know, those people have been paying their rent this entire time,” Hardberger said.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.