Agreement means protections for tenants from water shutoffs in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont

Landlords will continue to be held accountable for unpaid water bills

(For immediate release October 3, 2018)

Legal Services of Central New York and the City of Syracuse announced a settlement that will improve housing stability for tenants in Syracuse and potentially throughout New York state, as well as Connecticut and Vermont.

Under the settlement in the class action Winston v. City of Syracuse, the City confirmed it will not shut off water to tenants due to landlords’ unpaid water bills. The City will also ensure that going forward all water shut off notices will include clear instructions for tenants to contact the Syracuse Water Department or Legal Services of Central New York to arrange for reactivation of water services.

This agreement follows the April 11, 2018 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which held that the practice of municipalities shutting off water to tenants when landlords fail to pay their water bills is unconstitutional. This decision will impact the full jurisdiction of the Second Circuit, which includes municipalities in Vermont, Connecticut, and New York.

Legal Services of Central New York attorney Joshua Cotter, who represents Ms. Winston states, “The Second Circuit’s decision ended the unconstitutional practice employed by many municipalities throughout CT, NY, and VT of holding tenants like Ms. Winston responsible for debts to which they have no relationship. We are delighted to have now resolved this matter in the U.S District Court and applaud the City of Syracuse for its commitment to holding landlords accountable for unpaid water bills.”

“For too many tenants, financial uncertainty can put housing and entire families at risk. This resolution helps us to increase housing stability for our residents,” said Kristen E. Smith, Corporation Counsel, City of Syracuse. “Going forward the City will continue to hold landlords responsible for unpaid water bills and will pursue every avenue possible under the law to ensure water bills are paid.”

“The City is legally permitted to add unpaid water bills to property tax bills and, ultimately, foreclose on properties if those bills remain unpaid.” Smith explained.

The settlement requires Syracuse Common Council approval. The Council will vote to approve the settlement at its October 9 meeting. Upon Common Council approval, it will be filed with U.S. District Court Judge Thomas McAvoy in Binghamton and goes in to effect immediately.

Pending resolution of the matter, in April 2018 the City suspended water shutoffs for tenants in situations in which landlords failed to pay their water bills.


About Legal Services of Central New York

For more than 50 years, Legal Services of Central New York has fought to help people overcome obstacles, achieve goals, and pursue justice. Our team of 45 attorneys offers expertise in confronting community-wide problems and representing individuals with low-income. In 2017 we helped more than 15,000 people in 5,600 cases.

We serve a 13-county region of Central New York (Broome, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Otsego, and Oswego), fighting for justice and opportunity for all.

Our Vision

Justice, equality, and opportunity for all people throughout the 13-county region we serve.

Our Mission

We help people and communities in Central New York change law, policy, and systems to promote equity and create pathways out of poverty.


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