Can a landlord legally make you responsible for utilities you have no control over?

My old residence was an apartment unit that sat over several small businesses downstairs. The electiric and gas meter was shared by 2 business units and 2 seperate living units. In my signed lease agreement I was obligated for 1/4 of the utilities. Upon providing a 30 day notice to vacate, the landlord placed the entire 4 unit electricity meter into my name. I received a bill after moving out for several hundred dollars, that bill has since gone to collections and I am being haunted by it. I refuse to pay because he went against our agreement and is attempting to stick me with the electric.

Asked on May 21, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Colorado

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The issue is not "control"--since a person can contract to pay for all sorts of things he/she is not in control of--but agreement; the lease is a contract, and like any other contract, neither party may unilaterally change its terms or impose additional costs on the other without the other's consent. If you only agreed to pay 1/4 of the utilities, that is all you should pay--1/4 of the utility bills. In addition, placing the utilities in your name without your consent is itself a wrongful act, regardless of how much money is involved--no one can sign you up for utilities without your consent.

The proper way to resolve this, nowever, is NOT to simply not pay--doing so will damage your credit and could result in a court judgment against you if you are sued, which judgment could then lead to liens on your property, levies on bank accounts, etc.

Instead, you have two main options:

1) Pay the utility, since the account is in your name (even if it was put there wrongfully), then sue the landlord to recover compensation.

2) Explain to the utility that you never consented to having the utilities in your name; if they will not take your name off the account and cease collections, bring a legal action against the utility for a declaratory judgment (or court determination) that you are not responsible for the bill since you never agreed to accept responsibility, as well as an injunction (court order) directing the utility to take your name off the account and cease collections.


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