Seen At 11: New York Town Takes Woman’s Rental Property After She Didn’t Pay $1,700 Water Bill

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — An Orange County town took a woman’s rental property after she didn’t pay her water bill.

CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported Clara Leonardo lost the rental property on Prince Street in Middletown after she didn’t pay a $1,700 water bill.

Leonardo’s attorney, Chris Cabanillas, said his client never saw the water bills and legal notices because they were sent to the rental property and not her primary residence. He said the tenant ignored them because water bills were not their responsibility.

“She finds out that suddenly the property is not hers anymore. She goes in to inquire why, what happened, and she finds out,” Cabanillas said.

He continued, “All that we have is the one certified letter that they gave us a copy of and said telling her that if wasn’t paid by a certain date, the property was going to become theirs.”

Leonardo bought the rental property in 2005, hoping it would give her a financial edge for the future.

“I worked very hard for that. When the house needed repairs, I was here to 11, 12 o’clock at night,” she said. “That was my tomorrow, and my tomorrow is gone.”

Middletown Mayor Joseph deStephano said he acted within the law taking the property.

“She was collecting rent on both units. Ignored two years’ worth of notices, including regular mailings and certified mailings,” deStephano said.

Leonardo contends the town didn’t do enough to get in touch with her, and that she would have paid if she knew it meant losing her house. She said she did present a check for the amount owed, but it was after the house was taken, and was too late.

Attorney Nima Ameri said no matter the hardship, it’s the owners responsibility to know what is owed and when, or face the consequences.

“Homeowners beware: Pay your bills, pay your most important bills. That’s your property taxes, your water, and your mortgage,” Ameri said.

This happens in towns and cities all over the U.S., sometimes for missed bills of just a few hundred dollars.

Leonardo is considering filing for bankruptcy.

The house she lost is slated to be rehabbed for a community redevelopment program.