Is it landlord's responsibility for problematic utility bill?

chuehNovember 27, 2009

My former tenant called and asked me to write a statement that I had a defective water heater, which caused the water bill being so high. I wrote the letter and had an appointment with the former tenant. However, I knew that I couldn't trust her. She did not show up, as usual. When she called me and asked me to meet her, I told her to give me her current address, so I could mail it to her. She would not give me the address. I told her that I had all the experiences with her for not showing up whenever we had appointments (such as repair and governmental assistance appmts). She argued that I shouldn't feel troublesome to go out to meet her, because it would be my responsibility to pay for the water bill for not provide the letter to the utility company.

Yes, the water heater was leaking. She told me the day she moved out. It was the first time she ever told me about it. I replaced it right away. Now, she got the final bill from the utility company. She complained that the water heater was leaking, so the company told her to get either some repair invoices or letters from me to verify that indeed it was a mechanical problem that caused the water bill being so high.

I agreed and wrote the letter and waited for her. It was her usual no-show attitude. If she does not pay, it shouldn't be my responsibility to pay for it, should it? I don't live in the house, so I would not know what's going on there. Isn't it tenant's responsibility to notify the landlord as soon as she found out the problem, so the problem can be taken care right away? She failed to do so in the first place. Then, she failed to meet me to get the letter. I wouldn't think that the utility company is going to ask me to pay for her utility bill.

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Some states have a commission/agency on rental rights, rules etc. Cannot think of what they call it. You might ask either at the county offices or city offices for help. Maybe the county attorney general can help. Ask your electric company also. Do you have an attorney you use?
Start documenting everything now--phone calls who called, date, time, what was said, what was asked for etc--just in case you are taken to court.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 9:10PM
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Don't you think it would be the most prudent thing to just call the water department and ask them what their policy is on a matter like this? Also how a letter like that would impact who pays this bill, or any part of it? This is the kind of stuff every landlord should know before they rent out property. It seems a letter like that might protect a tenant more than a landlord.

I don't think you should automatically assume that admitting you had faulty equipment (whether you knew it or not) is going to assure nobody gets billed for the excessive water usage.

I also am not sure you should be upset with her remarks about if she didn't pay you'd get stuck with it. She may be just trying to have you assume that part she didn't actually use. In which case you'd be better off than her not paying the bill if you didn't assume some of the responsibility.

I can tell you a local water company wanted billing information from me when a relative moved into a house I owned title on, even though they set up their own account. The reason? I'd be responsible for any part of the bill if they didn't pay. It's not up to me to say which one of you is right or wrong or where it's going to end up. I'm just saying you need to know how the utility company handles those types of situations. It may be that you will be billed for any use above or beyond her average useage.

You mentioned government assistance too. I assume a tenant could also be getting a stipend for utilities and perhaps the wasted water impacts such a stipend and makes it where it would be an expense she can't pay. See what the story is before you get too riled.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 10:19PM
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We've lived in some states where unpaid water bills were placed as liens against the house!! The owner was responsible for payment of the bills no matter whose name the water bill was billed to. I'm not sure if you live in one of those states, but if you do, then even if you did nothing wrong as a landlord you'd be responsible to the water dept for paying the bill, but could probably sue in small claims court to recoup what the tenant owed.

Talk to your water department and find out what happens if she doesn't pay the bill. In the state I currently live in, it would go to collections against the person the water is billed to, but as I said in some other states it is placed as a lien against the home.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 6:58AM
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All your answers help. I will call the water company to find it out. Thank you all very much

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 10:40AM
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It is hard to believe that a leaky water heater leaked so much water to affect a water bill. It would have to leak hundreds or maybe thousands of gallons to affect the water bill, in most cases.

If it was this bad, the tenant surely would have contacted you eaqrlier. Something seems odd with her situation.

In my area, you are allowed to have a super-large water bill reduced, if you have a leak or a repair or something like that. You are allowed once per 24 month period and the water company must approve it. Often a letter or reciept needs to be shown to the utility.

As far as whether landlord is responsible, go ask at mrlandlord dot com if the utility doesn't answer. I am guessing you are not responsible, especially since you were not shown the bill and then shown prior bills to see the difference in usage the one month for the leak. besides, she didn't tell you until the last day.

Go to the area where for Q and A. Real landlords use that site daily and they seem to have real good advice for landlords.

Good news that she moved, huh?

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 1:47PM
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