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Am I a reasonable landlord?
February 3, 2010 7:43 PM   Subscribe

As a Texas landlord, was it my responsibility to make sure my tenants knew about turning on the gas?

YANAL, or at least YANML. It won't come to that anyway, I think.

I had tenants move in to this house I had previously lived in in October. I'm not sure that this is the case, but for the sake of argument let's say that I didn't explicitly tell them that they needed to get their gas turned on, so they didn't.

No one figured this out until December, when it finally was physically turned off. Because of complications unrelated to my question it took a few days to turn it back on and during those few days the only tenant at home was blasting space heaters and apparently cycling on the electric pilot in the heater as it tried to light and went out. Because of this or not, their electric bill that month was about twice normal. They want me to pay the difference and I'm paying half of the difference, which I feel is both way more than I'm obligated to do and way more than any landlord I've heard of would do.

On the lease it sais fairly unambiguously that utilities are the tenant's responsibility. However, is it my responsibility to make sure they know everything they need to do when they move in? Am I responsible for the difference in the electric bill that month?

If so, how do I keep a record that I told them?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
We usually add self-generated lease riders with the lease that new tenants must sign, and we walk them through these at the lease signing.

Points include: immediate notification to owner of leaks, plumbing stuff, how to turn on the heat, maintenance of property (KEEP IT CLEAN) and good neighbor expectations a/k/a - noise restrictions.

They sign & date. You sign & date.

The end.
posted by jbenben at 7:49 PM on February 3, 2010


Mention it during the lease signing and have part of the lease say, explicitly, "I have been informed that it's my responsibility to set up the gas." Then have them initial next to it. Bam, instant record, and they'll actually know.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:50 PM on February 3, 2010


Every time I've signed a lease, I've been told the name of the local gas and electric companies so that I could set up service. I don't think I've ever had it elaborated further than that, but the landlord saying "Here's the name of the company to call for gas/electric service" was a big enough hint. How do your tenants have electric but not gas? Did they set up one but not the other, or do they not pay the electric company directly?

Also, they knew they had active gas service for the first two or three months they were in the house, and knew that they were responsible for all utilities, right? When they didn't receive a bill for October or November, they should have contacted the gas company (or you). That they didn't do so leads me to think you have no reason to pay for their mistake.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:29 PM on February 3, 2010


Splitting the half of the electric bill is more than is necessary, but it is nice (speaking as someone who's been on both sides of that equation).
posted by zpousman at 8:32 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


You are very very nice for helping cover the electric.

If my heat didn't work, I'd be calling my landlord in 24 hours.
posted by desuetude at 8:48 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my experience, no rental agent or landlord ever told me to activate the utilities, that's just common knowledge that you'd have to. Splitting the electric in half seems perfectly reasonable under those circumstances, in fact I'd say generous.

Also...

Also, they knew they had active gas service for the first two or three months they were in the house, and knew that they were responsible for all utilities, right? When they didn't receive a bill for October or November, they should have contacted the gas company (or you). That they didn't do so leads me to think you have no reason to pay for their mistake.

This. Not seeing a bill should have been a warning flag to them, and it looks like they treated it as a "oh, cool, maybe he's footing the bill for gas without knowing it, let's not bring it up and hope it continues" judgement call. We're all adults here, we all know how utilities work.
posted by davejay at 8:55 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I 2nd Tomorrowful's idea. I live in Houston, TX and not many places use gas heat; it's just electric and water for the majority of places. As the landlord, you should inform people about what utilities are needed. The place I'm renting from told me that water is taken care of but electricity is not. I saw other places that made the renter take care of all needed utilities, but they always told us what would be expected for us to set up.

As for splitting the bill, if you can't remember if you actually flat out said to them, "You are responsible for getting the gas turned on," (since that will be the heat source)" then the nice thing to do is pay half. You aren't obligated to however, but it is a very nice thing to do. I think it's written into my lease that the complex takes care of the water, but I must have my own electric provider.
posted by Attackpanda at 9:24 PM on February 3, 2010


Texas renter here. At my last two rentals I was required to show proof that I had set up the electricity at the new place within a week or so. This doesn't answer you legal question, but it's probably something you should start doing as a landlord.
posted by Sufi at 9:36 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you using a Texas Association of Realtors lease? I ask because of this (bold mine):

"11. UTILITIES:

A. Tenant will pay all connection fees, service fees, usage fees, and all other costs and fees for all utilities to the Property (for example, electricity, gas, water, wastewater, garbage, telephone, alarm monitoring systems, cable, and Internet connections) except for which the Landlord will pay: ___

B. Unless provided by Landlord, Tenant must, at a minimum, keep the following utilities on, if available, at all times this lease is in effect: gas; electricity; water; wastewater; and garbage services.

Notice: Before signing this lease, Tenant should determine if all necessary utilities are available to the Property and are adequate for Tenant's use."

Therefore, as a tenant (who lacks gas service), your tenants are dumb (sorry, but this falls under the "knows or should have known" category) and you are being very generous by paying half the electricity.
posted by fireoyster at 10:04 PM on February 3, 2010


landlords being specific about what utilities the unit requires for full functionality is fairly common, despite what's in the boilerplate of the TX standard lease. i say this as a lifelong renter, 3/4 of that in TX.

not all places require gas for heat and they may not have known this place was one of those since it was all on when they got there. they may have assumed this was in their electricity bill already, especially considering how high energy rates are here.

it's very kind of you to cover what you're covering, despite a clear line of responsibility. let them know you're doing what you can to help and will be specific with any future tenants, but they should always ask if it isn't laid out for them by the leasor.
posted by batmonkey at 10:36 PM on February 3, 2010


When I moved into rented (student) accommodation, there was a standard 'information pack' there when I arrived, informing me about topics which, though obvious to me, some people could have been ignorant of.

The topics covered included: Perhaps you could devise a similar information sheet for your future tenants?
posted by Mike1024 at 12:19 AM on February 4, 2010


it took a few days to turn it back on and during those few days the only tenant at home was blasting space heaters and apparently cycling on the electric pilot in the heater as it tried to light and went out. Because of this or not, their electric bill that month was about twice normal.

What kind of non-gas space heaters have electric igniters? Kerosene? Could it be that the space heaters were completely electric? In any case, it's totally implausible that electric igniters could account for a significant change in the electric bill. For example, the cost to run a 100 watt ignitor for five seconds would be on the order of a couple thousandths of a cent. Their electric bill is higher for some other reason.

Besides which, if their gas had been turned on, then their GAS BILL would've been higher.

This should not have been your problem at all.
posted by jon1270 at 4:12 AM on February 4, 2010


In my experience, no rental agent or landlord ever told me to activate the utilities, that's just common knowledge that you'd have to.

I have been given contact info for the utilities though. And that would be useful, to have a sheet with the various company names / phone #s / web addresses that you could give them with the lease.
posted by smackfu at 5:58 AM on February 4, 2010


I am a serial renter in Texas. I have always had to sign a form or disclaimer agreeing to assume control over ALL services "by date of move-in", usually with services listed as a courtesy.

It seems like here in Texas, many homes are electric-only while others are electric+gas. It seems a bit unreasonable for the landlord to assume that the renters know about the gas connections. On the other hand, it's also unreasonable for the renters to assume that there are no gas connections. But absence of any specific mention of natural gas, I would assume that the house I was renting we electric-only.

What kind of non-gas space heaters have electric igniters?

I think Anonymous means that they were repeatedly trying to light the in-house gas heater pilot light, not realizing that the gas was out. They were also running space heaters. The first should not do much to the electricity bill. The second will do A LOT to the electricity bill.
posted by muddgirl at 7:10 AM on February 4, 2010


I've rented a lot of houses and apartments and I cannot recall ever being told how to establish utilities unless they were provided by the landlord or the landlord needed me to move an established account into my name. If the gas or water was off, it was my responsibility to call and turn it on.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2010


I have never been expicitly told to turn on utilities. Rarely, I have been given contact info for the local utility companies, but usually not. If they knew they had a pilot light to light, they knew they needed gas and should have turned it on.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2010


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