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Tenant Utility Bills – What to do?
At RHA we receive calls daily regarding the Utility District billing policies and tenants with past due bills. Usually it is to ask RHA if we knew the landlord could be held responsible for the delinquent bill. Yes, we do.
For the past 20 years RHA and other groups have tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the public utilities’ lien authority on the landlord’s property for the tenant’s debt and we will continue to do so. But in the mean time let’s look at the benefit from RCW 35.21.217 which allows for landlords to contact their public utility with all of their tenants’ names and addresses to request notice of those tenants’ delinquent bill at the same time the delinquency notice is sent to the tenant. RHA recommends the rental property owner contact their Utility District as soon as an old tenant moves out and as soon as a new tenant moves in. The statute does not do the rental property owner any good, unless the utility is notified of the tenants’ names and addresses as soon as possible. This serves two purposes. First, the landlord will know about the delinquency at the time it occurs, not four years later. Second, if the notice is not sent, the public utility cannot place a lien on your property for non-payment. This does not mean a utility can’t push for payment, but it is not the landlord’s debt.
Here’s a frequent scenario from a member. “I recently had a situation where a tenant did not pay her electric bill for two years! When City Light finally cut off her power she tried to make it my fault, when I had no idea anything was amiss. The electric bill had continued to accrue in the old tenant's name and the new tenant never bothered to set up an account in her name. She chose to believe that all the City Light delinquency notices sent to her apartment, but with the old tenant's name, were not her concern--even though she knew that the lease stated she was responsible for paying for electricity--in spite of using electricity and never receiving a bill.”
This highlights the issue of the landlord possibly being stuck with a bill if a utility is unable to track down the tenant after he/she moves out. The law allows for the landlord to give written notice to the utility that he/she wishes to be notified if a tenant becomes delinquent. This is done by filling out a form with the address of the building and the tenants’ name(s) and sending it to the utility.
RHA’s sentiments are that this rarely happens, and for a landlord with a number of units this is a bit of a burden. Filling out and processing each written request can result in extra work for both the landlord and Utility District. To make this step easier, RHA has created a form for housing providers to fill out and send to their District. Here is a list of Utility Districts and their addresses.
Click here for utility company form letter.
Snohomish County PUD
Seattle Public Utilities (Water, Sewer,
Lewis County Public Utility District #1
Seattle City Light
Seattle City Light has a Tenant Delinquency Notification program. You can find more information here: http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/light/accounts/ac4_td.htm
Pierce County Public Utilities (Garbage/Recycle,
Tacoma Public Utilities (Power, Water)
Disclaimer: The material on the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound’s website does not constitute legal advice, but rather information for your general guidance and help. Laws and regulations change and may change faster than our web pages are updated. There may be other facts which would result in a different interpretation and different results. If you need legal advice, consult your attorney.