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Registered: 05/18/09
Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #1 
My BF has a property in VA.  His tenants are responsible for opening and paying their own account with the local utility for water/sewer.  Twice now he has had tenants break their lease and leave with unpaid water bills and the utility company is telling him that HE is responsible for paying them. 

Can they force him to pay someone else's bill?  Is this legal?  It seems unreasonable that he is responsible for someone else's account just because they reside in a property that he owns. 

If anyone has any experience with this or knowledge that they can share, it would be much appreciated. 

Thank you!

Registered: 01/20/07
Posts: 3,566
Reply with quote  #2 
Yep.  This is common in many areas.  The utility company's bylaws are sometimes written to make the owner the guarantor of any account opened at that address.  If that company is written up like this, they can sue the owner and place a tax lien on the property for unpaid tenant bills.  There are several ways to handle this. 

1)  Have the utility company send you a letter whenever the tenant is in arrears.  As soon as they miss the payment deadline, they should shoot you a letter saying the tenant is in default.  Then you can get on the tenant about the bill.
2)  Take a seperate utility deposit if possible.  You can't do this is your state regulates the amount of the security deposit to one month's rent.  But if you can, this gives you leverage to get them to pay the bills.
3)  Call the utility as soon as they give you notice to vacate. Ask about the tenant's balance.  If they tell you that is private, let them know that since you may ultimately be responsible for paying this, this is your bill too.  (They used to tell us that, but not anymore since they want us to pay it.)  Then get on the tenant immediately to pay the bill.
4)  Call the utility as soon as they move out and get the last bill.  Subtract it from the deposit.
5)  Write the lease so that you pay the water bill, but up the rent by more than the average water bill.  (So if the rent is $500 and the water bill usually $50, your rent is now $575.)  Ig utilities are included, they are often abused and they go much higher.
6)  Write in the lease that they are responsible for the water bill, payable to you as additional rent each month, due with the next rent payment.  You leave the water bill in your name and you get the bills.  Copy them and send them to thew tenant.  Have the tenant include that amount with the rent for the next month.  It's a hasle, but this ensures the water bill stays current.  If they fail to pay the water bill, you write in the receipt that the water bill was subtracted from the rent.  Rent is now in arrears and you send the appropriate pay or quit notice.

Good luck.

Registered: 10/30/07
Posts: 64
Reply with quote  #3 

Can they force him to pay someone else's bill?  Is this legal?  It seems unreasonable that he is responsible for someone else's account just because they reside in a property that he owns. 

As OHLL said, “Yep they can force him to pay the bill.”  OHLL also gave several bits of GOOD advice.


I had the same thing happen.  Renter moved out and left a $55.00 sever bill.  City told me I had to pay it.  I refused. They said they would have the water shut off.  I said “go ahead” as the house was empty. They shut off the water that morning, and then I paid the bill and water was turned back on that afternoon. I then took the renter to SCC (small claims court) and won judgment.  Why did I wait to pay the bill.  Because it wasn’t my bill to start off with, and if I had paid it early then I couldn’t try to collect.  What a mess. 


One thing you need to know.  What are the ordinances, rules of the people telling you that you have to pay the bill.  In my case it was the city telling me I had to pay.   I went and read the city ordinances, it is written that landlords are responsibility if renters do not pay the bill.  It also says that the city must send monthly notices about the bill (includeing due dates, amount of bill, amount of water /sewer used).  If they don’t send you a notice then the city has not done their part.  My city now sends me notices of each rental property sewer bill monthly even though the renter is paying the bill.  I pointed out to them that if they don’t send me notice, as required by their ordinance as I am responsible for the bill, then they have not done their part and I am sure this would not look good if we have to go to court.  Just be nice but hold their feet to the fire if you have to.


You can't fight city hall, but you can sure s[pend a lot of time doing it.


Registered: 01/20/07
Posts: 3,566
Reply with quote  #4 
So true haynesm!

One thing the poster should check is which utilities can do this in her area.  Here, the city water, sewer, &trash bill can be liened to the owner (combined bill).  Even though the city statute says the water bill can be liened (says nothing about sewer or trash), they lien the entire amount.  Outside the city limits, the local county sewer system liens (but not the water company).

In other cities, it is the electric or heat bil that can be liened.  You should call each and check to see which of these utilities you can be made responsible for.

Registered: 05/18/09
Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #5 

Great advise - much apprecaited Gentlement - thank you.  We'll do all you suggested. 

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