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It is a rule of life, and of retail, that if one is given a defective product, one should not have to pay for it. For instance, if you buy a new dishwasher, and it blows up on you, you would be well within your rights to demand a refund. If you buy a new shirt and find that one of the buttons is missing, you should be able to exchange it.

However, things apparently get a little awkward when it comes to utilities!

The city of Flint, Michigan, has filed tax liens against more than 8,000 of its residents, on account of the fact that they have not paid their water bills. Why haven’t they paid? Because the water is poisonous, and they can’t really afford to pay for both bottled water and poison water that they cannot drink, and that’s on top of paying for health problems caused by the water. Said residents are now being told they can either pay up by May 19, or lose their houses to foreclosure. Fun!

The liens are being filed against those who haven’t paid their water bills for six months or more. Melissa Mays, an activist who refused to pay her bill, told the local NBC affiliate that she has to pay $900 by the 19th or lose her home. She’s paying the bill and choosing having a place to live over her activism. However, there are probably a lot of people out there in Flint who simply cannot afford to come up with $900 in that amount of time, and could end up being homeless.

City leaders, however, feel this is something they must do, because they need the cash:

“We have to have revenue coming in, so we can’t give people revenue, I mean excuse me, give people water at the tap and not get revenue coming in to pay those bills,” said Al Mooney, City of Flint Treasury Department.

Mooney says the shut offs are already working in the city’s favor. Last month Flint brought in nearly $3 million for water. That is nearly $1 million more from the month prior when they only collected $2.1 million.

Mooney hopes the 8,000 tax lien notices that went out [will] prompt even more people to pay their water bills. If all of those were paid up that would bring in nearly $6 million for the city.

Oh, how nice for the city. Six million dollars! That sure is a lot of money to get in exchange for lead-infused water that will make you very sick if you drink it. It’s probably less nice for residents who might lose their houses and become homeless. Perhaps they should consider trying another way to raise $6 million that doesn’t hurt people who just don’t want to pay for a faulty product.

It’s not just unfair, it’s cruel. That someone could end up on the street over a $900 bill for defective water they can’t drink is positively horrifying. If just 25% of the 8,000 people are unable to come up with the funds necessary, that’s 2,000 homeless families, and 2,000 empty houses (that will probably be pretty difficult to sell to anyone not already living in Flint, what with the poison water situation and all). There has to be a better way.

They want to be able to charge the same amount for poison water as they would for clean, drinkable water — and they should not be allowed to do that. In fact, no one in Flint should have to pay a damn water bill until the water is clean and drinkable — which is not projected to happen until 2020. Maybe the bills ought to be footed by those involved in the decision-making process that led to this disaster. And if those folks don’t have $6 million on hand combined, perhaps the state can just foreclose on their homes to make up for it. That seems fair, no?

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[NBC 25]

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