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

UPDATED: May 21, 2012

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Get Legal Help Today

Compare Quotes From Top Companies and Save

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption