Did I get ripped off by a misleading lease agreement?
June 14, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Vancouver BC Rental Agreement: Heat and Hot Water included. Or is it?

My lease at a new apartment I moved into at the beginning of April, in Vancouver BC, states that heat and hot water are included.

I got a massive hydro (electricity) bill just now (well, much more massive than any previous hydro bill I've ever received in BC). I called up BC Hydro to see if an error was made. According to BC Hydro, the units in my building have their own electrical heat, tied to the resident's hydro bill. I emailed my landlord/management company and they kind of gave me a runaround and would not actually confirm or deny that heat is included in the rental price, other than that heat is tied to the resident's hydro meter, and well, residents have to pay their own hydro bill.

All the other places I've rented which state that heating is included... well, the heating was included and I did not have to pay for that utility.

Is my lease agreement erroneous? Is there anything I can do about it?
posted by porpoise to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a signed and legal lease saying the hydro is included, then the hydro is included even if that lease is wrong. Legal agreements are binding.

You need to now move from the question "is hydro included?" with the management company to "and how would you like to cover the hydro costs? Unless you have a preferred method, I am inclined to deduct my hydro payments from the rent."

Obviously, let them respond, but proceed as if your utilities are covered, because they are.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:55 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

i would deduct the amount of the bill from the next rent payment & attach a copy of the bill with my check. without further explanation.
posted by msconduct at 2:57 PM on June 14, 2010

i would deduct the amount of the bill from the next rent payment

I am fairly certain that will get you pretty severely fucked.

Contact a tenants' rights association. I know Victoria has one though I cannot for the life of me remember what it's called. I would be astonished if Vancouver did not.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:12 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: So, just to be clear, not all your utilities are covered -- just heat and hot water. Electricity is not covered. I'm assuming your water is heated by electricity as well.

Do you have baseboard heaters?

1. Presumably you use electricity for other things besides heat, so at best, only part of the bill is covered under your lease. You will have to show what portion is heat / hot water.

2. If your lease says heat is included, it is included. It is possible that your landlord will say that they pay for heat and not electricity, and your heat is generated through electricity, but it is first electricity. Therefore, they will not pay for it. In other words, they might try to say the plain words of the contract mean something different than your reading of the contract. This does mean it is a good idea to just not pay full rent, however. And don't do anything that might put you at risk of ruining a good credit score (like sending them the bill and not paying it yourself).

3. Googling for tenant's info in Van gets me: TRAC . Maybe they can help or refer you to someone if they can't?
posted by girlpublisher at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: we have a very helpful residential tenancy branch who would be happy to give you an official answer by phone or email. do not argue with your landlord or withhold rent.
posted by paradroid at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: Update:

"It appears a clerical error was made in the lease by checking off the little heat box, and the heating was no made clear at the time of the lease preparation.

I pay rent by automatic pre-authorized monthly deduction from my bank account.

At the current time I'm inclined to take DarlingBri's suggestion but I'm hoping there might be more suggestions on how to proceed with the least general acrimony and highest chances of my "being covered."
posted by porpoise at 3:23 PM on June 14, 2010

Clerical error or not, the contract was signed and is presumably legally enforceable. Call TRAC.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:31 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

If your lease says heat is included, they have to heat your apartment for you. If they want to provide the heat through electrical heaters, that's fine, but they can't ask you to pay for the cost of the power while simultaneously agreeing that heat is included. Clerical errors notwithstanding, you have a signed agreement in hand -- this is their problem to deal with and it's up to them to make it right.

If I were you I would attempt to negotiate for reduced rent. Contact BC Hydro and try to find out the typical annual bill for the unit and how much of that was for heating (make sure the winter months are covered), pro-rate it to a monthly amount, and offer to amend the lease to a new rent with that amount deducted. If they refuse you can go for outside help.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: P.S. accidentally checking off the "little" heat box and failing to "make clear" the heating is weasel language indicating they will probably try to get out of it; don't let them. It's not a question of being accommodating over a minor clerical error, because their misrepresentation is imposing a financial penalty on you that, had you known about it, might have affected your willingness to sign the lease. This is equivalent to them saying, "whoops the rent was wrong, it's actually higher than the lease states and what you understood when you signed it and entered into a legally binding agreement with us, sorry we typed the little 1 instead of the little 2 and failed to make it clear". No way should this sort of behavior be allowed to stand.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:45 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's very common for "heat and hot water" to be included where both of those utilities are powered by natural gas, i.e. Terasen. I've never heard of a lease to include hydro unless you are renting a basement suite and there is no separate meter.

It probably is the landlord's mistake, and if you give them enough of a hard time you might get them to cover a portion of the hydro bill. However, it's not reasonable to expect them to cover all your power bill since much of it will not be related to heating your unit.

As an aside, I'd call Hydro up again and ask them whether the bill is based on an estimate from the previous tenant, or if the meter was actually checked for your unit. Usually until they get a chance to check it, your bill is based on an estimate from prior usage and will not reflect your actual charges. Any overage will be carried forward to your next bill.

The Residential Tenancy Branch has numerous publications online which break down in the simplest of terms what your rights are as a tenant in BC. Have a look through to see if this is covered. You can also call them up toll-free and get a lot of good advice from their phone representatives.
posted by Pomo at 4:20 PM on June 14, 2010

Yes, in the strictest legal sense you're right and they're wrong. But in practice heat isn't included unless it's central heating. In BC, baseboard electric heating is usually your own responsibility.

How much money are we talking about with this "massive" Hydro bill? An extra $50 per month? If you stick it to them, they might find a way to break your lease (with the necessary notice) or jack up your rent after the first year.

Life might be easier for you to just assume it's an honest mistake, play nice and pay the Hydro bill, just like everyone else in BC who has electric heating.
posted by randomstriker at 4:57 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

msconduct writes "i would deduct the amount of the bill from the next rent payment & attach a copy of the bill with my check. without further explanation."

Not paying your rent in full is a good way to get evicted with less than 30 days notice in BC.
posted by Mitheral at 5:38 PM on June 14, 2010

To be clear, I'm not sure that I actually would deduct the hydro cost. I would use the "and how would you like to cover the hydro costs? Unless you have a preferred method, I am inclined to deduct my hydro payments from the rent" statement to force them to take a position.

If they come back with the 30-day eviction legal warning, it's easy to say "Obviously, both parties would prefer to avoid legal action. However, the fact remains that I rented this apartment at $X00 per month with heat included and both parties signed a legally binding lease agreeing those terms. Again, how would you like to arrange to pay for these charges?"

Basically, just keep putting the ball back in their court.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:46 PM on June 14, 2010

If you check the laws, there are restrictions on the amount that rent is allowed to increase, and you can't just not renew a lease for no reason in BC, so you're not entirely at the landlord's mercy here.
posted by jeather at 7:06 PM on June 14, 2010

If you check the laws, there are restrictions on the amount that rent is allowed to increase, and you can't just not renew a lease for no reason in BC, so you're not entirely at the landlord's mercy here.

Yes, but the permitted increase (inflation + 2%) can still be substantial. That's an extra $50 per month for a decent, above-ground 1-bedroom apartment that rents for upwards of $1100 in Vancouver.

Moreover, there's ways for landlords to impose an exceptional increase greater than the regularly permitted. A pissed-off and determined landlord will find a way to do it, especially if he lawyers up.
posted by randomstriker at 7:47 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you girlpublisher and dnab, and paradroid. I've contacted both organizations and they both urge me to pursue this and to do so with physical letters but gave me silly answers about getting BC Hydro to figure out exactly how much power went through the baseboards and getting the management company to pay that portion.

Yes, it's only $50 a month, for now, but I'm a grad student on a fixed income. To be fair, I got this current place at a fair price - a little too much without heat, and a decent deal with heat included.

In Vancouver, I've never gotten past a year's lease with anything but the maximum increase, although before I moved, I managed to negotiate down the increase (it was still an increase).

The plan is to write a formal letter, explaining the situation and saying that I would be amenable to rewriting the lease so it doesn't cover heat but has a lower per monthly rent (going to call Hydro again and see if anyone can give me a quote on an estimate of the year-total cost of heating), retroactive, then email a copy of the letter saying that I will be sending the attached letter by registered mail. We'll see what works.
posted by porpoise at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2010

Lived in Vancouver recently and my place had heat and water included however the baseboard heaters that looked electric were actually hot water heated things but the rooms without the baseboard heaters (kitchen and bathroom) had electric heat that ATE hydro. We just didn't turn the thermostats on in those two rooms and took the "free" heat. This type of heating is common in Vancouver, specifically in the kits/point grey area (if you're at UBC).
posted by saradarlin at 11:11 PM on June 15, 2010

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