302 Properties

Who Is Responsible For The Water Bills – The Landlord Or The Tenant?

  • January 30, 2024
  • James Beeson
  • Category: LANDLORD TIPS, Property Management

Determining whether you, as a property owner, will bear the responsibility for utilities or pass them on to your tenant is crucial, as it draws a clear line to avoid any issues in the future. Ordinarily, landlords must only cover tenant water bills for the obvious reason that the tenant is using the water. Still, it can be overseen if explicitly outlined in the lease agreement. The responsibility of settling utility bills, including water, directly connects to the terms negotiated between the landlord and tenant during the initial negotiations when leasing/renting.

Although, typically, tenants are tasked with the responsibility of covering water usage expenses – there are cases where landlords may opt to add either “fixed” or “as is” water payments to the overall rent. Including utilities in the rental fee not only streamlines the process but also enhances the appeal and convenience of your property, relieving tenants of the additional responsibility.

The specifics of who bears the responsibility for water bills, strategies for managing such situations, and what steps to take if a tenant fails to fulfill their water bill obligation are all important points that should clearly be outlined to avoid future disputes.

Key Takeaways

  • Establishing Clarity in the Tenant-Landlord Relationship: A clear understanding of the tenant-landlord relationship is crucial. Utility responsibilities, including water bills, should be explicitly outlined in the lease agreement. The lease determines whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for water bills.
  • Understanding The Legal Requirement For Landlords To Provide Water “Services”: Landlords have a legal obligation to ensure tenants have access to clean water. Providing safe water sources is a key responsibility, distinct from paying water bills. State and local regulations vary, and understanding them is essential for compliance.
  • Possible Outcomes of Unpaid Water Bills: Landlords may be responsible for unpaid water bills as per lease agreements. Water disconnection for non-payment is a gradual process, providing notifications. Deducting unpaid bills from the security deposit and pursuing legal action are options.
  • Tenant Accountability for Unpaid Utility Bills: Tenants remain accountable for unpaid water bills even after vacating. Failure to pay constitutes a lease agreement breach, potentially leading to eviction. Cities can place a lien on the property if water bills remain unpaid, impacting property transactions.

Water Bills – Establishing Clarity in the Tenant-Landlord Relationship

The dynamic between a landlord and tenant is a pivotal aspect that demands a clear understanding from both parties involved. It is imperative to delineate each person’s obligations in the tenant-landlord relationship to circumvent misunderstandings and legal entanglements. All details regarding utility bills, such as the water bill, should be explicitly outlined in the lease agreement.

Water Bills - Establishing Clarity in the Tenant-Landlord Relationship

Unless otherwise specified, the water bill, inclusive of sewage if applicable, falls within the utility realm, akin to electricity or natural gas. If the lease stipulates that the tenant bears responsibility for all utilities associated with the property, then the water bill becomes their obligation. Conversely, if the lease indicates that water is encompassed in the monthly rent charge, the responsibility for the water bill unequivocally rests with the landlord.

Understanding The Legal Requirement For Landlords To Provide Water “Services”

Regarding the responsibilities of landlords, one crucial legal obligation stands out: ensuring tenants have access to clean water. It is the duty of landlords to ensure that the water supply meets all health and safety standards, as this is essential for meeting the needs of those living on their property.

In situations where the property is not connected to a public water system, tenants rightfully expect landlords to provide sources of water. This might involve options like wells or storage tanks guaranteeing a safe water supply for the people residing there.

And you should note that legal requirements for providing the proper water services and connections differ from the rightful obligation of paying the water bills. Both of these responsibilities are often misunderstood. Although there are obligations concerning water provision for landlords, it becomes clear that meeting these standards is not a requirement but also a fundamental aspect of maintaining tenants’ safe and comfortable living environment. Meanwhile, paying the utility bills may not always be part of a landlord’s responsibility.

It is also essential to grasp the nuances of state and local regulations, particularly when it comes to water bills in rental properties. Each state has its own set of regulations; for instance, landlords are obligated to cover water expenses in certain states, while in others, they can transfer the costs to tenants.

Understanding your state’s laws is crucial. Refer to your state government’s website for this information, focusing on sections such as ‘utility laws’ or ‘tenant rights.’ These sections provide insights into the party responsible for paying the water bill.

Possible Outcomes of Unpaid Water Bills

Various situations may arise concerning unpaid water bills, and awareness of potential consequences is essential.

Possible Outcomes of Unpaid Water Bills

Landlord’s Responsibilities Regarding Water Bills

In specific lease agreements, landlords may assume responsibility for particular utilities throughout the tenancy. If the lease explicitly mentions that water expenses are encompassed in the monthly rent, the landlord bears the responsibility for the water bill. In such cases, any outstanding water bills become the landlord’s financial obligation.

Landlords also have the option to define financial responsibilities beyond a certain threshold, referred to as a “fixed amount” each month. For instance, in a multi-unit property, a landlord can calculate the average water consumption among all tenants and incorporate this amount into the rent.

Alternatively, tenants can be billed for their usage, with the water charges listed “as is” on their subsequent monthly rent statement. This approach ensures that renters directly pay for the water they consume.

Water Disconnection:

In the United States, utility companies can legally disconnect water services for non-payment. However, the significant risk of neglecting water bill payments is the potential property loss. If the tenant leaves without paying the bills for any utilities in their name, the water suppliers may cut off service because of unpaid balances. This situation may impact future renters, which may also make it more difficult for the landlord to rent or sell the property.

Water shut-off due to non-payment is gradual, involving multiple notifications and opportunities to avoid disconnection. The earliest a shut-off can occur is 50-60 days after the initial bill is issued. Some water utilities may provide amortization plans, spreading the unpaid balance over a customer-defined period not exceeding 12 months from the bill’s original date. These amortized payments are then combined with the customer’s regular bill.

Deducting Unpaid Utility Bills from the Security Deposit

A security deposit is a sum of money paid by the tenant to the landlord, serving as a financial safeguard for the landlord in case of property damage or non-compliance with the lease agreement (such as premature termination of the lease). Upon the lease’s conclusion, the tenant typically receives a deposit refund.

Therefore, the landlord may use all or a portion of a security deposit to cover delinquent utility bills if the tenant vacates the property. The residual amount of the cash deposits, if any, is then given back to the tenant.

Resolving Unpaid Water Bills through Small Claims Court

These types of courts provide a swift and cost-effective venue for settling disputes. In this specialized court, proceedings are simplified, and the hearings are conducted informally, typically without the involvement of attorneys. These state courts handle legal claims falling below a specified threshold, often ranging from $2,500 to around $25,000, depending on the state.

In certain situations, landlords may seek legal recourse against former tenants to recover outstanding water bills. This may entail initiating legal proceedings in this court to pursue compensation for unpaid debts.

Seeking Debt Recovery through Collections Agencies

In cases where a landlord faces challenges in recovering unpaid water bills through methods such as legal proceedings or security deposit, they may enlist the services of a collections agency, such as IC System, Coast to Coast, or CMI Group. These companies collect the unpaid debt on behalf of the landlord, but it’s crucial to remember that doing so may negatively impact the tenant’s credit rating and financial background.

Debt collectors also possess the authority to take legal action, including filing a lawsuit to pursue the owed amount. If successful or in the tenant’s absence in court, collectors may access funds from the individual’s bank account, garnish wages, or place a lien on their property.

Tenant Accountability for Unpaid Utility Bills

Even after vacating the property, tenants remain accountable for unpaid water bills. If a court finds them liable, they could be mandated to settle the unpaid balance. The utility company holds the right to pursue legal action against the tenant to reclaim the owed funds, making payment essential.

Failure to pay the water bill constitutes a lease agreement breach, and landlords can initiate eviction proceedings if tenants neglect their responsibility to cover water bill costs.

What If The Tenant Refuses To Pay The Bill?

When tenants and landlords find themselves at an impasse regarding water bill responsibilities, particularly in areas where these services are city-owned rather than managed by private utility companies, there are implications to consider. In such instances, cities can place a lien on the property if water bills remain unpaid. Some jurisdictions give utility companies the authority to impose liens for unpaid bills, irrespective of whether the property is rented or owner-occupied. Notably, this lien is attached to the property rather than the tenant, giving the utility company the right to seek payment through legal avenues, such as the property sale or debt collection during a property transaction.

A water utility lien is a legal mechanism implemented by utility companies when property owners fail to pay their water bills, including gas, energy, garbage, or sewerage collection bills. While it secures the debt, a water utility lien is not a traditional lien in property ownership. Its enforcement typically involves shutting off the water service until the debt is settled.

Some utility companies offer a straightforward solution by keeping the landlord or owner accountable for the water bills. While this ensures bill payment, it comes with the risk of potential unpaid balances if the tenant vacates without settling the bills. However, it serves as a protective measure against property liens. Evaluating the pros and cons is crucial, and careful tenant screening can mitigate such issues by selecting tenants who are less likely to leave water bills unpaid.

Tips For Landlords To Avoid Unpaid Water Bills

To mitigate potential risks associated with a tenant’s overdue bills, landlords can adopt proactive measures, including:

  • Conducting credit checks as part of the background screening process for prospective tenants. This aids in identifying individuals who may pose a financial risk and struggle with bill payments.
  • Amend the lease agreement to condition continued tenancy on timely water bill payments. Non-payment may warrant initiation of eviction proceedings.
  • Request the utility company to provide the landlord with copies of the tenant’s monthly water bills. This facilitates monitoring and helps address potential issues promptly.
  • Educate and encourage tenants to check for leaks and adopt water-saving practices. This proactive approach minimizes the possibility of unusually high bills, benefiting both tenants and landlords.
  • Considering the co-signer requirement, especially for tenants with limited income, such as students. This provides an additional layer of financial security.
  • Instead of placing the water service under the tenant’s name, opting to have it in the landlord’s name. In this scenario, landlords can adjust rent charges to include the cost of water, ensuring timely payment and reducing the odds of delinquency.

Importance Of Clear Lease Agreements

Establishing a comprehensive lease agreement is crucial for clarity and understanding between landlords and tenants. Key points to include in the lease agreement are:

  • Clearly outline rent payment terms and specify which party is responsible for various bills. (Examples of lease agreements that allocate responsibility include: (1) Tenant is responsible for all utilities, (2) Landlord covers all utilities except water, and (3) Landlord covers all utilities.
  • Define guidelines for water usage.
  • Specify the landlord’s plumbing obligations.
  • Clearly outline maintenance and repair responsibilities.

Maintaining a transparent landlord-tenant relationship is essential in real estate. Both parties should be familiar with these basic responsibilities and ensure their lease agreements reflect them to prevent misunderstandings. Landlords, you must fulfill your legal obligation to provide water services to your tenants.

Final Thoughts

Determining the responsibility for water bills between landlords and tenants is a pivotal aspect of the tenant-landlord relationship. Clarity in lease agreements is paramount, specifying whether tenants or landlords bear the cost. Landlords have a legal duty to provide clean water services but may vary in their obligation to pay water bills. Unpaid water bills can lead to consequences like disconnection, deduction from security deposits, legal actions, or debt recovery through agencies.

Tenants remain accountable even after vacating, and disputes may result in property liens. Landlords can mitigate risks through proactive measures and clear lease agreements, emphasizing the importance of a transparent relationship for a strong landlord-tenant relationship.