If a tenant moved out but the landlord never changed over the utilities, who is responsible for the subsequent bills?

I took on the utility bill for the house I was renting last year with several other housemates. Moved out early and now there is a bill on the account. When I called a month in advance to close the account I was told that a meter would have to be read to do that. I was moving out early and would not be there to read the meter so I asked my landlord to do it. He said he would but he did not. Now there is a bill on the account for months after I left. I called and e-mailed my landlord with the details and relevant information for him to close the account and with the amount of money he owes me but he hasn’t responded. Who is responsible for the bill – me, since it’s in my name, or him, since it’s his house? Is Small Claims Court an option?

Asked on November 7, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

From what you write, you would only be liable if (1) you had moved out early without the landlord's persmission to do so--in other words, you violated the lease, in which case you would be responsible for everything still due under the lease (e.g. utilities until the lease ended); or (2) you had agreed to pay for the utilities for some period of time after  you moved out (e.g. in exchange for being allowed to move out early). Otherwise, your landlord would seem to be liable, especially if he either negligently or intentionally failed to do what he agreed to do, and facilitate the account being closed out.

That said, if your name was still on the account, the utility can look to you for payment--and take collections action or bring a lawsuit if you do not pay; you in turn may be able to sue the landlord for what you've had to pay, including possibly in small claims court.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

From what you write, you would only be liable if (1) you had moved out early without the landlord's persmission to do so--in other words, you violated the lease, in which case you would be responsible for everything still due under the lease (e.g. utilities until the lease ended); or (2) you had agreed to pay for the utilities for some period of time after  you moved out (e.g. in exchange for being allowed to move out early). Otherwise, your landlord would seem to be liable, especially if he either negligently or intentionally failed to do what he agreed to do, and facilitate the account being closed out.

That said, if your name was still on the account, the utility can look to you for payment--and take collections action or bring a lawsuit if you do not pay; you in turn may be able to sue the landlord for what you've had to pay, including possibly in small claims court.


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