Excessive gas usage/bill in rental - is landlord responsible?!

wildmonsterJanuary 3, 2006

This is a long story, so let me summarize with several points: 1) As tenant, IÂm responsible for propane gas (used for heat, hot water, cooking). 2) Since IÂve never lived in Massachusetts, I checked with gas supplier about gas usage before renting the small house in July. 3) Based on their records to previous tenants, gas guys said 11-1200 gallons/year for this house. This is acceptable to me, so I rented the house. 4) Gas supplierÂs policy is to have new customers fill up the tank, so I filled 450 gallons on July 1. 5) On Nov 28 the gas oven wouldnÂt work, and landlord discovered that the gas tank was completely empty  shock horror! 6) Another 425 gallons had to be delivered. 7) Gas guys later said there was a tiny leak, but that could only cause 50 gallons to leak out  not HUNDREDS of gallons. 8) By posting to internet forums and using "gas calculators", I should only have used 350 gallons from July ÂDec. (Even this figure is more than fair because IÂm very frugal in my energy consumption  thermostat at 66F  winter has been mild, etc.) 9) Both gas supplier and landlord agree that the usage is WAY way way too much, but they canÂt figure out the reason.

So now I am in this desperate situation: Gas supplier says I owe them $1,800. I am happy to pay them $800 (i.e. 350 gal), which is my fair share. (Again, this figure is according to the gas supplierÂs experience and past records. IÂm not trying to take advantage of anyone.) But itÂs just not fair that I have to pay for gas which I honestly DID NOT USE! Why should I have to fork out an extra $1,000!

Landlord seems a reasonable person and he has been informed of this situation all along. He realizes that it is his responsibility to take care of furnaces, appliances, etc. But he doesnÂt think that he has been negligent, and so he shouldnÂt have to pay for the disappeared (and disappearing) gas!!

Even as I type, gas (and MY $$$) are flying out into space! That really turns my stomach upside down! Am I held 100% responsible for this gigantic gas bill since the lease says the tenant pays for utilities? Is there any way the landlord can be held responsible too? Please help!!

Many thanks --


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What do we know here? We know the fuel supplier charged you for 450 gallons of propane when you moved in. I am assuming that you have proof there really was 450 gallons there (is there a gauge you can look at?). We know that by the end of November, there was no propane left. We know they delivered 425 more gallons (again, assuming this amount can be verified).

What no one knows is how much propane you actually used. Agnostic Internet "gas calculators" are good for estimating, but they cannot reproduce your situation exactly and should not be used as a guide to your "fair share." After all, you've gone five months (or so) on 450 gallons, which is in keeping with the previous estimate of 1100-1200 gallons per year.

The propane company has no way of telling you how your heating, hot water, and cooking habits differ from that of the previous tenants. Your landlord likely does not have an idea of how much (or how little propane) you use, either. All anyone knows for sure is that 450 gallons have left the tank since July.

I would suggest the following: ask your landlord to pay to have the system checked by a qualified technician -- tank/valves, furnace/boiler, and water heater. He agrees that the usage sounds high, so he should be willing to at least see if there is a problem that is bleeding off the propane.

If there is, see if the landlord will cover at least part of the amount lost as his responsibility for maintaining the system. Whatever is left, however, is yours. You may walk around your house in a snowsuit, take cold showers, and only eat uncooked food. But no one has a way to verify that. And the numbers you've presented here are not that far off from where they "should" be.

If the $1,800 is more than you can physically pay at this point, sit down with the propane supplier and try to work out a payment plan. You also can ask in your city or county if there are any programs which will assist people who need help making fuel payments.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 1:06PM
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My propane tank is actually owned by the fuel company. We had a leak once that I reported due to the smell. They came and checked it and said it was just "venting" and proceded to fill the tank. The next day, the tank was empty again. It turns out a valve was faulty and sent the proprane streaming out once filled. Anyway, they ate the cost of the leaked propane. Have you noticed any propane odors or smells? I'd say you are on par with using 1100-1200 gallons a year with a 450 gallon usage.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 1:35PM
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Things don't quite add up the way you seem to want them to. You admit that you may have used as much as 350 gallons. Soo...

1)They put in 450 gallons
2) You used five months worth of propane. You think that should have been 350 gallons, but all 450 gallons were gone.
3) They refilled the tank with another 425 gallons

Only 100 gallons of propane are in dispute. (The difference between the original 450 gallons that were put in the tank, and the 350 gallons that you think you used.) If 350 gallons of propane is worth $800, then 100 gallons is worth about $225; ok, this is not nothing, but it is nowhere near the $1000 you seem to expect somebody else to pay.

I don't understand how you owe $1800 if $800 is the price of 350 gallons and they only put in 425 gallons. Haven't you already paid for the 450 gallons you bought in July?

I'm going to assume, since it's the only way that makes even a little sense, that the $1800 is for both the July and the recent tank fills combined(?), which means it is for 875 gallons of propane. You owe, at the very least, for 775 of those gallons; the 350 gallons you believe you already used, as well as the 425 gallons they just put in the tank which you are going to use. You owe the vast majority of this bill even if you are right and there was a leak.

Why do you say you are still losing gas? Didn't the gas company fix the leak? If not, then have them fix it right away! Did they offer to compensate you for the 50 gallons they believe might have leaked away? I would expect them at least to cover that. Which then leaves only 50 gallons in dispute.

You should find out who owns and is responsible for the propane tank; landlord or gas company. I don't know but would guess it's the gas company, in which case any dispute you might have over a leaky tank would be with them. If you think there is some problem with an appliance in the house, then you should discuss with the landlord, but unless you smell gas, you probably don't have a leak in the house. But again, you have only 100 gallons of propane usage to dispute. You do owe for at least the 350 gallons you've used PLUS the 425 gallon tank refill which are are currently using.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 5:36PM
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Sorry, I didnÂt give all the details! Let me try again! Here's the amount of gas FILLED INTO TANK: 450 gal on July 1 (when I moved into the house); 470 gal on Nov 18 (when tank went unexpectedly totally empty). 180 gal on Dec 8 (thatÂs the "regular" delivery that the company scheduled long ago before the emergency delivery in Nov). 240 gal on Jan 2 (thatÂs an "extra" delivery to gauge if the situation improved after the tiny leak was finally repaired on Nov 28 - unfortunately no "improvement").

This makes a total of 1260 gal from July 1-Jan 2 (i.e. 6 months). The gas supplierÂs records show that previous tenants used around 1,100-1,200 gallons PER YEAR. ThatÂs the figure I relied on when I rented the house and used as my budget. That also agrees with internet "gas calculators" I used.

I also tried to calculate according to seasons (based again on figures given by the supplier and other general sources). HereÂs the breakdown: Summer (July, Aug, Sep) 15 weeks x 10gal/wk = 150 gal. Fall (Oct, Nov) 8 wks x 20gal/wk = 160 gal. Winter (Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar) 16 wks x 48gal/wk = 768 gal. Spring (Apr, May, Jun) 13 wks x 15 gal/wk = 195 gal. Total is 1,195 gal, which ties in well with the 1,200 gal figure in the above paragraph. (Of course this is an approximation and the weather each year is important. Incidentally, this past fall and winter - so far - has been less cold than "normal".)

One more figure to mention: gas rep said theyÂd estimate that for the past 25 days (Dec 8-Jan 2), my usage should be 6-7 gal/day. That means when they filled the tank on Jan 2, it should have been 150-175 gal. But they needed to put in 240 gal. Where did the extra 70-90 gals go?!

And where did gas in the summer and fall months go? Based on the above calculations, I reckoned that from July 1- Dec 8 I should have used about 360 gals. But a whopping 920 gals disappeared in that period!! (By the way, the company only gave me 50 gal credit for the "tiny leak". Should they give me MORE CREDIT?)

As for dollar amount, price here in Massachusetts is around $2.45/gal. I paid for the first tank of 450 gal in July  over $900 (trusting that it should at least last the summer and fall, but that didnÂt happen.) I paid another $500 in December while negotiating with the supplier and landlord, and I am happy to pay a few hundred dollars more this month. But even so, I still owe them plenty because they have provided 1260 gal. (I wonÂt bore everyone with more figures - enough math for one post!)

Does this make sense? Where did I go wrong? What should I do now?!


    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 7:20PM
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Ah! More useful info. There's obviously a malfunction somewhere. Your landlord should get someone from the gas company and/or a plumber out there immediately to check the system and fix what's wrong. Once they figure out what's wrong, it will be easier to figure out who should pay to fix the problem. If it's mechanical, it most likely won't be you paying; your landlord likely will eat the cost since, as you stated, he was made aware of the situation all the way through. You can be nice and offer to help with the payment, but it sounds like you've done your part.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 10:16AM
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Ok, that makes much more sense. Sorry, I don't have much help for you, though, other than to tell you to keep bugging the gas company to figure out what the problem is.

Has the landlord had the furnace serviced/inspected? I would also make sure he does that. You haven't noticed it running non-stop or anything weird like that, have you? I don't know how much gas a badly functioning furnace could use.

It really sounds to me (COMPLETELY unknowledgable, so don't take this as gospel) that there must still be a leak. Make sure the gas company goes over everything with a fine-toothed comb, make sure you understand what's going on. If they eventually find a leak that they missed, my personal opinion is the gas company should be responsible for the lost gas. I doubt the landlord would be held responsible unless it turns out to be something malfunctioning w/ the furnace, so I would think your best bet is to keep after the gas company.

Also, while moving is a pain, you might check into whether you could get out of the lease because of the situation. If everyone (gas company, landlord) agrees that something is wrong, and it is not getting fixed, that might be an option.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 10:36AM
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Monster who's (almost) wild (with unexpected costs),

Who owns the tank?

Often it's the gas co.

If so - and it's been malfunctioning for some time, and they've been made aware of it ...

... seems to me that they should eat the extra costs.

Just my humble opinion.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 3:00PM
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