The people of Flint are charged the highest water rates in the country even though the water flowing through their pipes was unsafe to drink and 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Compounding the trauma, in May 2017 the City of Flint sent approximately 8,000 notices to residents stating that liens would be placed on their homes if water fees from 2015 — the height of the water crisis — were not paid. Eventually, if the liens were not lifted, they could be used to seize and foreclose on the residents’ homes. 

Although the mayor said that the city was merely following state law regarding tax liens for unpaid water bills, in fact the city is under no such legal obligation.The ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) wrote a letter to Flint’s mayor and city council, calling for a moratorium on liens for unpaid water bills. The letter argued that since the city did not fulfill its duty to provide water fit for drinking, Flint residents should not have to pay for it — much less lose their homes over it. 

In May 2017, Flint’s city council passed a one-year moratorium on the liens. Unfortunately, Flint’s Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB), which must approve ordinances that could impact the city’s budget, rejected the ordinance in June 2017. The county treasurer, however, announced that she would not foreclose on any homes in Flint over unpaid water bills. 

(ACLU Attorneys Kary Moss, Michael J. Steinberg and Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio; Sherrilyn Ifil, Coty Montag and Ajmel Quereshi of LDF.) 

Date filed


Defending liberty

Stay informed

ACLU of Michigan is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National