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A County water dept. is trying to fine us for breaking a water…

A County water dept. is...
A County water dept. is trying to fine us for breaking a water seal on a rental property that we had no knowledge of. Our former tenants moved out with house nice and clean. They called to have water turned off...Not sure it was ever turned off....new tenants move in the next month and have water put in their name. Water dept. says a lock was tampered with and we as owners of the house owe a fine of $400 plus. We disputed this in writing and they turned over to collections. Do we have any recourse?
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Answered in 2 minutes by:
6/24/2010
Ely
Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 103,583
Experience: Private practice with focus on family, criminal, PI, consumer protection, and business consultation.
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Hello,



My name is XXXXX XXXXX I am one of JustAnswer's attorneys. I'll be helping you resolve your matter today.



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So it was someone else that broke it, but they're coming after YOU?





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Customer reply replied 8 years ago
Yes, we are not even sure there was ever a lock on it. We never have the water in our name. When a tenant moves out they have water turned off and when a new tenant moves in they have it turned on in their name. The Water Dept. is claiming there was usage between tenants. They say we own the house so we are to blame. They want a fine and late fees for not paying this fine. It was almost two months between tenants.
Ordinarily I'd say file for a declaratory judgement in small claims court - it's like saying "Judge, here is what happened, now it’s a mess and not clear, so can you please fill in the blanks for us with what is contractually fair and legally equitable and make everyone bound by it?"However, Georgia has limited such actions only to superior courts in the state, and $400 is too little to file there. So what you have to do is to wait until they file on you, IF they do, and then use what you told me as an AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE in your answer and hope that the Judge sides with you.

Best of luck in your matter. I'm here if you need any more clarification or follow up information.



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Customer reply replied 8 years ago
There has to be more that we can do rather than wait for the Water Dept. to ruin our credit...????
I am going to opt out of your question and let another expert opt in to help you. No need to respond to this message. Additionally, you do not have to stay online – your question will remain active and an email will be sent to you as soon an expert answers it. My apologies for the inconvenience. You have not been charged. Good luck.
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Dwayne B.
Dwayne B., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 34,389
Experience: Began practicing law in 1992
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The other expert, who is very skilled, was correct in his information. As he mentioned, the dollar value involved is so low that the only thing that makes economic sense is to wait for them to sue you and then file an affirmative defense. However, you can file for a declaratory judgment in district court and try to get attorney's fees from the other side. You may or may not be successful. A declaratory judgment is a lawsuit asking the judge to make a finding as to a particular fact, like in this case that you aren't responsible for a broken lock.

You can also send the collection agency a letter with the following language:

“Please be advised that I dispute the validity of this debt. Pursuant to the state and federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act(s) I hereby instruct you to cease all communications with me regarding the alleged debt. Any further attempt by you to contact me will be construed as an intentional violation of the law. Further more, as this debt is not mine if it is placed on my credit report I will consider it to be an intentional violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act(s) and will seek all damages allowed under law".

These are really your only choices.

Thank you for allowing me to assist you. I believe I have answered all of the questions you asked so I would request that you please click the ACCEPT button so I receive credit for my work and leave feedback if you have a chance. Please consider clicking "BONUS" as a nice way of saying "thanks" for a job well done, although this is neither required nor expected. Please remember that we can only base our answers on the information you provide and sometimes a misunderstanding as to what you are looking for or already know occurs so feel free to ask additional questions. Please be aware that my answer is not legal advice, it is merely information. You should always contact a local attorney for legal advice.

Several customers have asked how they direct a question to me in particular. If you specifically want me to provide information for you just put “FOR JD 1992” in the subject line and I will pick up the next time I am online.
Dwayne B.
Dwayne B., Attorney
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Customer reply replied 8 years ago
“FOR JD 1992”

JD,

Is it even legal for Gwinnett County Water Dept to open an account in my name and apply charges to it without my knowledge or authorization? I consider this fraudulent activity by the county. I never signed anything to authorize this activity!

In addition, the time period that this claimed usage occurred was March 17, 2009 to May 3, 2009 and they just sent me a bill in April 20, 2010. What are the statue of limitations in this case?

Thanks,
Greg
The statute of limitations will be at least two years and probably longer, depending on the cause of action.

They certainly can't open an account for you and then make charges on it and hold you responsible. I suspect that when you send them the letter I referenced above you aren't going to have any more trouble out of them.

Thank you for allowing me to assist you. I believe I have answered all of the questions you asked so I would request that you please click the ACCEPT button so I receive credit for my work and leave feedback if you have a chance. Please consider clicking "BONUS" as a nice way of saying "thanks" for a job well done, although this is neither required nor expected. Please remember that we can only base our answers on the information you provide and sometimes a misunderstanding as to what you are looking for or already know occurs so feel free to ask additional questions. Please be aware that my answer is not legal advice, it is merely information. You should always contact a local attorney for legal advice.

Several customers have asked how they direct a question to me in particular. If you specifically want me to provide information for you just put “FOR JD 1992” in the subject line and I will pick up the next time I am online.
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