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 April 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 — during the height of the water crisis — were not paid. Eventually, if the liens were not lifted, they could be used to 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. In May 2017 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.

Flint’s city council passed a moratorium on the liens, and the county treasurer announced that she would not foreclose on any homes in Flint over unpaid water bills. However, in April 2019 the city again mailed out over 20,000 notices stating that liens will be issued for unpaid water bills. The ACLU and LDF wrote again to the mayor and the country treasurer, condemning the city’s actions, arguing that there are alternative means of collecting unpaid fees, and requesting that no liens be placed on Flint homes.

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

Date filed

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Defending liberty

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