Landlords have three options when it comes to utility responsibility:
1. They can choose to pay all of the utilities for the rental property.
2. They can choose to pay a portion of the utilities and charge overruns to the tenant.
3. They can choose to pay none of the utilities.
Most landlords will require tenants to pay their own utilities simply because there is so much variation in cost. More important than what amount is paid for the utilities, however, is making sure that a rental property adheres to all building safety codes that are in place. Here are some common examples where landlords wind up failing in their utility responsibilities.
1. With Smoke Detectors.
Some building safety codes require smoke detectors to be hardwired into the properties grid. The same may be true for carbon monoxide detectors. There are also placement issues to consider, as some codes may require a hardwired smoke detector in every room.
2. By Shutting Off Utilities Prematurely.
If a tenant is paying their own way with utilities, landlords have no authority to shut down the utilities. Landlords that pay for the utilities themselves must keep the account current or risk breaking the lease. Only the utility company can shut off a tenant.
3. By Sharing Utilities.
This is often seen in single family homes that are converted into multiple units. Most landlords are required to have separate meters for separate rental properties. Some may even require independent heating and water systems as well.
4. By Not Providing Information About a Bill.
Most laws require landlords who do third party billing to give tenants information about how the utility bills are charged. A failure to provide this information may be considered a violation of the lease.
5. By Overcharging Tenants.
Landlords are not allowed to overcharge tenants for their utility use. If a budgeted plan is in place so that there aren't summer/winter variables, then the same amount should be charged every month. Tenants are able to take landlords to small claims court if they have evidence that they are being overcharged. Landlords are required to maintain utility access whenever it is in their power to do so. If a tenant isn't paying their bill and the utility shuts them off, then that's on the tenant, not the landlord. If, however, a landlord shuts off the utilities without justification, it could lead to extensive litigation.
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