Who's paying for the heat?
November 6, 2010 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out whether the landlord is really paying for my heat.

I moved into my current apartment last spring, when heating was not necessary. As it gets colder, I examined my heating apparatuses more closely and realized that they are all electric (baseboard-type) heaters (I'm used to central air, so no, this wasn't immediately obvious to me). My lease states that the landlord will pay for heat, but that I pay for electricity.

Given that I have electric heaters, is this possible? Are apartments ever wired so that just the heaters are on a separate meter?

Is there a way to assess whether I am paying for heat other than seeing how much steeper my electric bill is at the end of the month? I know the easiest answer seems to be "ask your landlord", and I am pursuing an answer that way, but communication is a bit slow as it's through a large company rather than a single person. And anyway, I'd like a way to test their claim if they state that I'm not paying for the heat.

More info: two of the heaters are controlled by dials right on the unit, but the two main units must have a switch on the wall (not on the unit) flipped to "heat" as well as a dial on the wall (not on the unit) turned to the required temperature. The wall switch has three settings (heat, off, and AC); the AC setting controls electrical power to a window AC unit plugged into a special outlet. Since I know that I pay for the AC power toggled by this switch, is it possible that the electricity for the heater routed through this same switch is on a separate meter?
posted by pavane to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have trouble getting an answer from your landlord, you might try asking the electric company. They should be able to tell you what meters connect to your apartment.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:30 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Do you have access to your breaker panel? If you do, and there are breakers labeled "Heat" or "Baseboards" then you are paying for heat through your power bill. To confirm this, turn the appropriate breakers off and then turn your baseboards on - if they don't get warm, they are on the same circuit as the rest of your house.
posted by davey_darling at 3:31 PM on November 6, 2010

in addition to d_d's answer, if the breakers are not labeled, just switch them all off (during the day), turn up the heaters and see if they heat up.
posted by lee at 3:37 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: and yes, it is possible that the heat and a/c are wired to different meters and controlled by the same thermostat.
posted by lee at 3:45 PM on November 6, 2010

Every time I've lived in a place with baseboard heaters, these have been metered with the rest of the unit and paid for by the tenant. Every time the landlord has paid for heat, it's been central heating in some way, either air vents of hot water radiators.

The power utility probably has the consumption history for the unit. If it gets considerably higher in winter, you can reasonably infer that the heating is paid for by the tenant.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:55 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Didn't think to check the breakers, and yes, the heaters on are them. Next step is to argue with landlord for not meeting the promises made in the lease, but since my electric bill includes both the heat and the rest of the apartment's electricity, I don't see a good resolution ahead :( Thanks for all your help.
posted by pavane at 3:59 PM on November 6, 2010

Method A: Turn off your electric heat by dropping the thermostats way down. Now, locate your electric meter (Usually these are outside the building, your electric bill will have your meter number on it most times. If it does not, your electric company can tell you your meter number if you call them with your bill in hand.). With the heat off, observe the speed at which the meter is running. Also take a reading of the current use for like five minutes. Now, go back inside, jack the heat on all of the baseboard heaters and trot back out to the meter. Is it running faster/more? (Older meters have a physical dial that you can watch spin. Electric heat makes the meter go *whirrr*. Newer meters just show kwh and stuff, but you can write down pre-test and post-test for like five minutes and compare meter growth on these.) If your meter goes lots faster when your heat is ON than when it does when your heat is OFF, you are paying for the heat. Remember to reset heat to normal levels when done testing.

Method B: Locate your fuse box. Electric baseboard heat is dual-width breakers, typically 20-Amp breakers. Room circuits (for outlets and lights) are typically single-width 10 Amp breakers. Examine the fuse box. Double width breakers should be expected for each of the following items that you have: electric stove, electric water heater, clothes dryer. (These are usually all 30 Amp breakers and electric baseboard is typically 20 Amp but the double width thing is the same for both kinds.)

If you have more than 3 double-width breakers, try shutting them all off (your stove, water heater, and dryer will not work) and then checking to see if you have any baseboard electric heat. If you have baseboard heat with every single 20 or 30 amp breaker in your fuse box turned off, the landlord is probably paying for the heat. Don't forget to turn the breakers back on when you are done testing.
posted by which_chick at 4:14 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

They might have recycled a lease from another building where the heat was included and forgot to change it.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:15 PM on November 6, 2010

You could get a baseline electricity cost by looking at a bill from a month when neither the heat nor the A/C was in use. I realize that sometimes there's no such month, but it sounds like you may have had such a bill in the spring. (And, yes, electricity also goes up in winter due to more lights, but you could start with the argument that the difficulty in separating the costs is your landlord's fault.)

I'm guessing that, if the situation is as you suspect, that it's a mistake, and that your landlord may well take a reasonable resolution, or counter with another mediocre reasonable resolution, unless they're inherently shady.
posted by endless_forms at 4:44 PM on November 6, 2010

Even if, as Jacqueline suggests, the lease is recycled, that doesn't change its terms. Your landlord is still responsible for paying for heat under the terms of this lease. Now, if there's no physical way to disentangle that expense from the rest of your electricity usage, that's a complication -- but you should absolutely get reimbursed or something.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:50 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, it happened to me, too.

I got some good advice to contact local residency boards and the provincial tenancy ministry. Although they didn't do much good, mentioning that I had contacted those agencies helped get the ball moving on the leasing company's end. Ask them to confirm that, according to the lease that both parties signed, that heat is included in the monthly rent. If it's on the lease, they're going to have to honour it. Or reach an accomodation with you.

Didn't get too much out of it; a $20 reduction in monthly rent, year-round, which doesn't fully cover heating =( Hope you get a better deal from your landlord.

Geeze, it's cold today.
posted by porpoise at 7:53 AM on November 7, 2010

This may be a stupid question, but are you SURE it is electric baseboard heat and not hot water baseboard heat?
posted by HuronBob at 11:46 AM on November 7, 2010

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