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I received a municipal sewer bill today that stated the following (emphasis mine):

In accordance with Section 21A of the Sewerage Authorities Act (Chapter 138 PL 1946) interest at the rate of 1-1/2% per month will be charged on all delinquent balances until fully paid delinquent balances constitute a lien against the property and are enforceable as such. Failure to receive sewer bills does not exempt a sewer user from late charge when payment is delinquent.

I located what I think is the Sewerage Authorities Act here and part (a) references the elements about the interest charge and (b) addresses the authority to place a lien on the property.

What I can't find is where the authority to enforce unreceived bills comes from. As written, this phrasing concerns me as it seems that the utility could just choose to not send a bill and still expect payment.

Is there another statute I should be looking at that stipulates these terms?

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    If you fail to send an invoice to your employer each month, do you still expect to get paid?
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jun 21 at 15:34
  • @Sneftel I'm not sure if you're asking me or someone else. If you're asking me then, were I a subcontractor, I wouldn't be paid without an invoice. In my current position, I need to fill out time sheets weekly. No time sheet would mean my time would default to unpaid time off. I might be able to get that changed retroactively, but the burden would be on me to make that happen. Commented Jun 21 at 15:46
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    Exactly. It would depend on the nature of your contract with them. In the case where the contract specified regular payments of a particular amount, the burden would not be on you to provide invoices or timesheets; that would already have been taken care of by the contract.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jun 21 at 15:53
  • @Sneftel But what if it's a variable amount, depending on usage? You don't know how much you owe until you receive the invoice. At best you may be able to estimate based on previous months.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 21 at 17:23
  • These days almost all utilities offer auto-pay, so there's little excuse for missing a bill.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 21 at 17:29

2 Answers 2

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The interest due is a time value of money that contains no qualification that it be calculated from the date that an invoice is received. It is based upon the harm to the sewage company from not receiving timely payment and not on the fault of the customer who doesn't pay on time. This isn't terribly exceptional.

The linked statute states:

(a) In the event that a service charge of any sewerage authority with regard to any parcel of real property shall not be paid as and when due, interest shall accrue and be due to the sewerage authority on the unpaid balance at the rate of 1 ½ percent per month until such service charge, and the interest thereon, shall be fully paid to the sewerage authority. . . .

(f) In the event that any service charge of a sewerage authority shall not be paid as and when due, the unpaid balance thereof and all interest accrued thereon, together with attorney's fees and costs, may be recovered by the sewerage authority in a civil action, and any lien on real property for such service charge and interest accrued thereon may be foreclosed or otherwise enforced by the sewerage authority by action or suit in equity as for the foreclosure of a mortgage on such real property.

Another statute related to this issue is the statute that authorizes the sewage company to charge its customers, the first subsection of which says:

(a) Every sewerage authority is hereby authorized to charge and collect rents, rates, fees or other charges (in this act sometimes referred to as “service charges”) for direct or indirect connection with, or the use or services of, the sewerage system. Such service charges may be charged to and collected from any person contracting for such connection or use or services or from the owner or occupant, or both of them, of any real property which directly or indirectly is or has been connected with the system or from or on which originates or has originated sewage or other wastes which directly or indirectly have entered or may enter the sewerage system, and the owner of any such real property shall be liable for and shall pay such service charges to the sewerage authority at the time when and the place where such service charges are due and payable.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:14A-8.

The interest applies when the payment is not made "when due." This interpretation is supported by a trial court case interpreting the statute and a related contract with the sewage company:

The Service Contract, however, provides that the payments are “due” on the specified dates, and if payments are not made by those “due dates,” interest will be assessed from the very first day the payment is late and not from 30 days thereafter, irrespective of the fact that the interest may not be collected until after that 30 day period.

N.W. Bergen Cnty. Utilities Auth. v. Borough of Midland Park, 604 A.2d 229, 237 (N.J. Super. L. Div. 1992)

There is no reason to need to say so expressly in the statute because the default rule of contract law is that you have strict liability for meeting your contractual obligations that applies whether or not you are reminded of them with an invoice, and owe interest when it doesn't happen, no matter why it doesn't happen. Unless the contract says that payment is due X days from receiving an invoice, payment is due when it is due whether or not you receive notice of that fact.

Also, the due date is set by the sewer company's board.

In the context of the relationship you have with the municipal sewer authority, part of why that makes sense is that by having a sewer, you know that you will be receiving sewer bills according to a regular schedule, and the onus is placed on you to figure out what is going on if you don't get one.

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  • So bill receivers are expected to know what dates each of their bills are expected to arrive, and contact the service provider if it's late?
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 21 at 17:25
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    @Barmar In the case of sewer bills in New Jersey, yes. In the case of mortgages, generally yes. In the case of invoices from your lawyer for work done on an hourly basis and costs, surely no, although it is better practice to ask if you haven't received a bill.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:12
  • Sure. I was mainly thinking of utilities and subscriptions with a regular payment schedule. I used to make use of E-bill. I could tell the service that a bill is expected monthly, and it would notify me if a bill was late relative to the previous month.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:26
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This,

What I can't find is where the authority to enforce unreceived bills comes from. As written, this phrasing concerns me as it seems that the utility could just choose to not send a bill and still expect payment.

suggests that you think perhaps they're not sending you the bill.

I work for a utility. It's not a sewer utility but our financial structure is similar. It's also not in New Jersey, but I've paid sewer bills in NJ and my experience is that they're not different than we are.

The utility is a business. The intention of a business, especially in this space, is to collect the fair price for services rendered.

The easiest way to collect money from someone starts with informing them of the amount they owe you. It seems their way of doing this is by sending you a bill.

While it's possible that they're trying to cheat you, more than likely this is simply a mistake. They benefit (more than you do) by getting a correct bill to you in a timely manner.

@ohwilleke provides (as usual) an exceptional answer to your legal question. There may be a perfectly reasonable way to correct this issue, possibly with a far more favorable result, without chasing any legal question.

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