Are my tenant rights being violated?
February 27, 2021 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I rent a house. The house has a small apartment downstairs. The apartment is not on separate meters for utilities. All the utilities are in my name & are paid by me. There is nothing about the apartment in the lease. The landlords live out of state & said in an email they would use the apartment for “long weekends” two or three times a year. That has not been the case.

The landlords stay a minimum of 5 days every other month. They also have family members stay there for a week at a time. The HOA doesn’t allow short term rentals. I pay to heat/air condition the unit even though I do not have access. I pay all the electric, gas, water, internet, and trash collection on the house. The landlords pay none of that. They also block my parking space when they visit. It very inconvenient, and I feel like I’m being taken advantage of. They also stated in an email that I have the entire garage (2 car). But since the second month of my lease, they have stored a vehicle in there. I changed the password on my wifi so at least they can’t use that anymore. My question is, what course of action do I begin to take? I know you are not my lawyers, but I would greatly appreciate advice on a way to start righting the situation. My lease ends in 4 months. They said they are raising the rent. I have been a perfect tenant. I will not be renewing. This is in AZ. I have read the states’s landlord/tenant rights documents, but couldn’t find anything that pertains to this particular circumstance. Thanks for any insight!
posted by Bohemian Sailor to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would greatly appreciate advice on a way to start righting the situation. My lease ends in 4 months.

That's how you right the situation.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2021 [17 favorites]

Can you approximate how much you think you have paid of their utility usage? If so, I would let them know the amount and just deduct it from the rent. If you paid any kind of a deposit, I would make sure to also stop paying rent in advance the amount they owe you before you leave.

And of course, like DarlingBri said, you leave.
posted by nanook at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

I had a similar situation but in a different state. My state did have some stuff in the rental code about utility meters—yours may not have your exact situation but look at laws for when an apartment doesn’t have its own dedicated meter (which yours, functionally, does not.) I ended up not pursuing it for various reasons, but my conclusion was (after bringing it up with my landlord with no success) that my best solution would be taking them to small claims court to recover what I had paid in utilities.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:19 PM on February 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

IANAL but this is what I would do if there were only 4 months left: subtract the difference in utilities between the months they have stayed and the months they have not stayed for as many months as you have patience to do, and email them the amount, asking them whether they would rather reimburse you, or whether they prefer you take it out of your rent.
posted by nantucket at 3:23 PM on February 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Contact your local tenant rights organization for advice on reclaiming the paid-out funds.
And make sure your arrangements for a new place are locked in stone, ASAP.
posted by stormyteal at 3:52 PM on February 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

I don't know about the electricity, but as for the garage, I would email them a reply to the same email they said you would have the garage to yourself, and ask them nicely to move the vehicle that is in there.

If the apartment downstairs has separate circuit breakers, there is the start of a negotiation. Cut the breakers off and wait for them to ask you about it. Then tell them that you are owed $xxx for the electricity already used.

Also, I would not tell them you are not renewing until the last possible minute. You want them thinking you might stay and them to be nice to you.

In all likelihood, there is really not a lot you can do other than withhold your last month's rent.

If you are moving because of the electric, gas, garage etc, but would otherwise like to stay, you could offer to pay less rent to offset. They are unlikely to take it, but if you truly are a model tenant (I believe you!) they should be willing to negotiate. My landlord tried to raise my rent and I said that I was a model tenant and that I would sign right now for the same rent, but would have to explore my options at the higher rent. She said yes to same rent. THere is a lot of value to a landlord to have a good tenant.
posted by AugustWest at 3:57 PM on February 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: ...They said they are raising the rent. Your terrible landlords have been taking terrible advantage (Arizona law; Arizona submetering laws summary; ratio utility billing [RUBS], when submetering isn't feasible), and do not know the value of a good tenant. I think you should take your business elsewhere when your lease expires. I'm not sure what your options are in the next four months to recoup your losses, and I agree you should speak with a local tenant advocacy organization. But when you quit the place, make certain the utilities are no longer in your name. For your records, you want that proof from the various companies that you ended your service at that address on (date) with the account in good standing (no monies owed).
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:19 PM on February 27, 2021 [13 favorites]

I guess my question is, what do you want out of this? Do you want money back for extra utilities?

Do you want them to stop blocking your parking? Do you have extra things or an extra car that you need to store in the garage? Or do you resent them staying there and their relatives staying there more than you'd thought and they somehow invaded your privacy? What is your end goal? Is it money or something else? It seems like some of these things could be resolved through friendly communication. Such as, my car is being blocked, could you move yours? People are staying longer, and my electric has gone up, can you pay me back for that?

I rent a house where a 2nd home is also part of the property, but that 2nd home is only used in the summer months, and off and on. My landlord compensates me by cutting my electric bill in half during the warmer months except when I am using my window air conditioner unit (July and August), where I am obviously using the bulk of the electric. Parking is sometimes an issue, but I have free rein of other parking spots in the winter, when it's more feasible and I won't get my car stuck. It's all very friendly, and I never feel like I am being taken advantage of, because we communicate everything. I trade less months of privacy in the summer for full months of privacy in the winter, and everyone is peaceful and quiet.

Could you just ask? Hey, I noticed people are here more often, can I have a break on my electric bill? Or ask people to move their cars? I'm not sure if a tenants' rights or lawyer is the way to go in this circumstance unless you've asked for compensation and been denied. But maybe there's more to it than you've described. If you are not planning to stay beyond the end of the lease, when they are raising the rent, you might want to chalk it up as a lesson learned, unless the dollar amount is so high that you'd want to take it to small claims, but it seems like you've been putting up with this enough that it's a moot point, if you are planning to move when the lease is up.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:47 PM on February 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I guess my question is, what do you want out of this?
To slightly tack onto this, what do you want out of this now when you are leaving -- I assume that they don't know yet that you are leaving, but are you trying to get compensation for the past, or trying to prevent further potential violations over the next few months? Both?
posted by sm1tten at 6:01 PM on February 27, 2021

Landlord and tenant law varies so much that you really should ask someone who is familiar with your specific location. This is why people are suggesting talking to a tenant's organization. For example, in my state, you can't just deduct things from your rent without an agreement from your landlord or putting the money in escrow with the courts. In other states it is perfectly legal to do that. Some counties or cities may have other rules in relation to that. As noted above, there are rules about how a landlord divides utilities in Arizona, but you need someone who knows the consequences for your landlords if they violate that rule. Not just the "letter of the law" consequences but the actual ones that have been applied to others in the past. It is no good to threaten them with reporting this if they end up with no consequences.

If you are leaving in 4 months, make sure you know what kind of notice period is required. If it says 31 days, be aware that months with only 30 days can trip you up. Plan to give notice two or three days earlier than the deadline and be sure you use the right method. If it says "in writing", you need to give them a letter and not an email or text. Account for mail delays if you have to mail the letter, etc.
posted by soelo at 6:02 PM on February 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

From Arizona Law Help: There is no provision in Arizona law that allows a tenant to withhold rent because the landlord is being disagreeable or because a landlord broke oral promises to a tenant. [ . . . ] All notices sent to a landlord must (1) be in writing (and signed and dated) and (2) either delivered by hand (in person) or sent by registered or certified mail. This way the tenant has evidence when and that the letter was sent (in case the landlord denies it).

So, yeah, IANAL, but I think you should ignore folks suggesting you just stop paying rent or just pay partial rent or turn off circuit breakers as a hostage move (!!!???) or what the hell ever. There's a real chance this could get you in trouble. At the very least it probably won't do you any good.

Nthing get in touch with a local tenant's rights organization, see what's possible & what it takes to make that happen. And yeah, it's not clear what it is you're looking for in the question, but you should have an idea when you contact the org.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:29 PM on February 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

Seconding the suggestion to shut off the circuit breakers to their part of the house, if that's possible. When they ask about it or maybe even call in an electrician, you can explain that those circuit breakers are not for anything you need or use, so you're not going to pay for the extra electricity. Then they can either pay up or split the supply.
posted by essexjan at 5:51 AM on February 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

You are being taken advantage of. Start looking for a better place to live. I know that's a real PITA, but things are only going to get worse. I lived in a situation like that (owners kids using basement apt for long weekends in the city) and the straw that broke my back was when they tapped into my phone (land) line- but only to order pizza. Boy oh boy was I angry.
posted by james33 at 5:58 AM on February 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would actually consult someone with knowledge of tenant laws in your locale before shutting off circuit breakers; it may be illegal in some locales.
posted by coldhotel at 5:59 AM on February 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

In my state, shared meters are something my energy company takes really seriously. When I reported it to them and asked for an investigation, it happened immediately, and I got a LOT of money back and the landlord was dinged very hard, and I got free electricity for the rest of my tenancy. I would try that route, especially if you kind of like the idea of leaving this exploitative situation.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:06 AM on February 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm a lawyer who represents tenants in my state. I'm not licensed in your state. I'm not your lawyer. This is not legal advice.

I think the people who posted that you need to decide what you want are correct. Once you've decided what you want, you should get legal advice from a lawyer licensed to practice in your state before you do anything to assert whatever rights you might have.

I'm not sure what your financial situation is. Your local legal aid may be able to advise you, but if it is anything like the legal aid in my area, it is absolutely slammed with eviction cases related to the pandemic and, in any event, is unable to provide advice to people who make more than poverty-level wages. That may or may not be you.

If legal aid isn't able to help for whatever reason, you should consider paying a landlord-tenant attorney to give you advice. It might be a few hundred dollars, depending on what attorneys charge and the complexity of the case.

Depending on the law in your state and what your lease says, this may or may not be a situation where you can move out in four months and later bring a breach of contract or breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment case against the landlord. Maybe this is something you can do in small claims court on your own; maybe not. It's impossible to tell without legal advice.

I would add, echoing some other posters, that tenants who unilaterally withhold rent or turn off circuit breakers serving other parts of the property tend to put themselves in a dicey position. Talk to a lawyer first.
posted by Handstand Devil at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

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