By Selene Raj
Approximately 3,000 Coral Springs residents who live in Ramblewood East were on the verge of having their water shut off on Thursday — but two local government officials intervened, and now the worst-case scenario has been narrowly avoided.
Residents of Ramblewood East, a Coral Springs condominium and apartment complex, faced the shut-offs after many of them fell behind on rent payments due to Covid-19 and the financial difficulties that resulted from the pandemic.
In Ramblewood East, water utility payments are part of the Homeowner Association assessments, included in rent. But, after 25% of the tenants and owners were unable to pay rent for the past several months, the HOA was unable to pay the water utility company adequately.
As of Wednesday, the HOA owed $297,000 in water bills.
The utility company, Royal Waterworks, is a subsidiary of U.S. Water Services, and their contract is with the building itself, rather than any of the individual 1,020 units within it.
So, as bills went unpaid, Royal Waterworks threatened to shut off water not just for the units that had not been able to pay, but for the entire building — all 3,000 residents, including those who were current on their payments.
Even after public outcry, the company had threatened to shut off the water as soon as Thursday, October 15.
Coral Springs City Commissioner Joshua Simmons stood firmly against the company’s stance.
“This is unacceptable, and we will not stand for this,” he said via Twitter.
Simmons said that people are unemployed and are desperately seeking to get their lives and jobs back while still under a state of emergency.
“We cannot let people get kicked when they are down. That is not what we, in this city, are about,” he said.
He had been working behind the scenes for days, speaking with the company, and reaching out to the HOA president and other city officials to prevent the imminent shut-offs.
He reached out to State Rep. Dan Daley, who had initially thought of appealing to the Public Service Commission, who regulates private utilities. However, in recent months, he had seen the PSC neglect to intervene in shut-offs and knew they would have to do something else.
On Tuesday, Daley subsequently wrote a letter to U.S. Water Services, urging them to intervene and not shut off the water for thousands of residents.
“This action is gravely concerning and, quite frankly, could be a matter of life and death for some,” said Daley.
Initially, despite public outcry and outreach from Simmons and Daley, the company did not budge.
But, by Wednesday afternoon, things took a promising turn—Simmons and Daley, who had consistently advocated against the shut-offs, were able to get a conference call with representatives from U.S. Water Services.
“We had a conversation with Representative Daley and City Commissioner Simmons, and we have agreed to delay the disconnect at least until October 28,” said Troy Rendell, U.S. Water Services Vice President.
Daley said he and Simmons are relieved and thankful—especially because water is a fundamental necessity and one that the residents did not deserve to lose.
“The Ramblewood East neighborhood is probably one of the hardest hit—economically and biologically, I believe it’s been a hot spot. To cut them off from water, all 3,000 residents, is unfathomable,” he said.
During the conference call, Daley said that he and Simmons had a very frank conversation with the company about the reality of the situation and the next steps.
“We made them commit to a two-week extension to give us more time to come to a reasonable solution,” he said.
Despite the back and forth between the representatives in recent days, he did say he wanted to give credit where it was due.
“Royal Waterworks—once we got them to to the table—were willing to work with us and see what was actually feasible given the economic situation of Ramblewood East. We’re a long way from the finish line, but we got the extension,” said Daley.
Daley and Simmons will work with the residents, the HOA, and Royal Waterworks in the coming days to facilitate negotiations.
Daley hopes and believes that the company will be sensitive to the reality of the situation—that Ramblewood East, like many communities, has taken its hardest economic hit since the Great Recession.
“I very much appreciate Royal Waterworks’ willingness to come to the table and work with us for an amicable solution,” said Daley.
Simmons said that they aren’t out of the woods yet.
“We need to make sure, Rep. Dan Daley and I, that the HOA and Royal Waterworks come to a sustainable agreement that ensures the people of this community do not lose their access to water,” he said.
He too is grateful that the company has worked with them to at least grant an extension and work on a plan.
“We just want to make sure we don’t make times harder on folks,” said Simmons.
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Correction: we originally reported the HOA owed $58,225.36 in water bills. We have updated that figure. We regret this mistake