Am I responsible for my roommate's bills if I move?
July 3, 2008 6:39 AM   Subscribe

I am moving out before our lease expires. Am I liable for the rest of our future bills?

I cannot stand my roommate. I am moving out of our shared two-bedroom apartment a couple of months before our lease expires. I have not told him yet.

Both of our names are on the rental agreement, but only mine is on the bills, and he pays me back his equal share of them.

Our rental agreement states that the tenants are responsible for all utility bills except water.

The agreement also says that if tenants move out before their one-year-long lease expires, they are responsible for giving the landlord the rest of the rent that they owe. It does not state what should occur with the utility bills in such a situation.

I do not think I should be responsible for helping to pay for my soon-to-be ex-roommate's electricity and gas and whether he is able to foot the bills on his own is of less than zero concern to me.

What do you make of this? Does this mean that if I move out before our lease expires, I can hand the landlord the rest of the rent that I would owe until then, and stick my roommate with the bills? If so, how can I transfer them to his name if he refuses to take responsibility for them, especially since I do not know his social security number?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Don't worry about transferring them - just call the utilities and have them shut off at a certain date. Since your name is on the bills you should be able to do that. Let your roomate know what that date is so he can make arrangements to have them switched over to his name on that date - there should be no interruption in service then.

(As a former landlord, I always had utlities discontinued in my name on the date that my tenant was to move in. It was up to the tenant to set up utility service in their name)
posted by Ostara at 6:45 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just call the utility companies and tell them you are moving out. Give them a move-out date. Then tell the roommate he needs to transfer the bills to his name or the electricity/other utilities will be shut off. If he does not transfer them, he will live in the dark.
posted by zia at 6:47 AM on July 3, 2008

You can call up the utilities and have your name taken off. Just tell them that you'll be moving out of the apartment by a certain date and want your name removed on that date. Inform your former roommate of the situation and you'll be off the hook.
posted by Diskeater at 6:47 AM on July 3, 2008

When you tell your roommate you're moving out, you could tell him/her that he needs to transfer the utilities into his name within three days. Then call your utility companies and tell them to disconnect your services in 4 days and let the chips fall where they may.

I don't know if this is a good idea and it would certainly irritate your roommate in the event that he does not transfer the services before their disconnect date, but it would get the utilities out of your name.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:49 AM on July 3, 2008

I think the question of whether you're legally liable for half the utilities for the duration of the lease come down to whether you have established a contract with your roommate for this arrangement. There's not a written contract, of course (you would have mentioned that). But did this subject come up in verbal discussions with your roommate?
posted by Dec One at 7:02 AM on July 3, 2008

Oh yeah, and IANAL.
posted by Dec One at 7:03 AM on July 3, 2008

I think most (small claims) courts would find an implied contract between you and your roommate to each cover half the utils. So yes unless you can find a suitable sublettor or something he could likely recover your half if he really wanted to.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:12 AM on July 3, 2008

You might be liable to your roommate for half the utility bill, but you WILL be liable to the Utility company for 100% of the bill if it is still in your name. If it is unpaid it will be on your credit report, and they'll sue you to recover it.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:26 AM on July 3, 2008

I think most (small claims) courts would find an implied contract between you and your roommate to each cover half the utils. So yes unless you can find a suitable sublettor or something he could likely recover your half if he really wanted to.

More accurately, he has legal resources he could engage in order to attempt to recover that money, and might succeed in doing so. But realistically, for 50% of 2 months worth of bills? It hardly seems likely, and ones like power he would have a hard time making the case for recovering a full 1/2 of the bill since you wouldn't be there adding to it.

This is not a waiver to be a jerk about it, and while we don't know the details of your situation the odds are this is an interpersonal conflict, not a safety concern. You should, for the sake of your own esteem/soul/whatever do the right thing and tell this person what's going on. If you're going to pay your half of the rent that's already a long way towards being a stand up dude.

But don't be a chump about it either; make the official cutoff arrangements and make sure he pays his half of the last bill before you move at least, before you make the announcement if you really think he might refuse to pony up. And do it in writing, so as to minimize the chances of him calling them up in your name and undoing the cancellation. Stranger things have happened.
posted by phearlez at 7:35 AM on July 3, 2008

I think most (small claims) courts would find an implied contract between you and your roommate to each cover half the utils. So yes unless you can find a suitable sublettor or something he could likely recover your half if he really wanted to.

IANAL, but... I disagree. I think it would be difficult for the court to find an implied contract for a situation which had not ever existed. Specifically: OP paying for utilities in a place he didn't live.

Because utilities are based on usage, and OP's roomie has the capacity to reduce that usage (probably quite significantly) through a change in lifestyle, I would argue that the implied contract (if one exists at all) only extends as far as OP's tenancy does. Utilities are typically split 50/50 as a proxy for measuring actual usage, no such proxy is necessary if the person doesn't live there.

As a data point: one summer of college I was living in a different town and refused to pay my 1/2 of the bills. I offered to pay the equivalent of shut-off/turn-on fees, which is what I'd have been spending if nobody else needed the utilities on. My roommate's mother, an attorney, called several times to threaten to sue for the utilities, but never actually did. Whether that's because she didn't think she had a case or because it wasn't worth litigating, I can't say. YMMV.

At any rate, I wholeheartedly agree that, unless these bills are pretty significant, it's hardly worth the effort to recover them. (Although this depends as well, if your small claims court filings are really cheap, it might be)

In the event that it does go that far, it might be worthwhile to pay attention to energy usage. Does he leave lights on? Does he use the TV far more than you do? If there's a significant difference, that could possibly influence the court's decision (although predicting what a small claims court judge is going to do is tough). If he does use the utilities a lot more than you do, any documentation you can put together could be helpful. Again, though, I doubt it ever goes that far.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:03 AM on July 3, 2008

Totally agree with toomuchpete. The roommate is responsible for how much utilities he uses, so you can't logically be held responsible for electricity consumption in a place you no longer live. IANAL.

That said, logic sometimes has very little to do with pissing people off, so be your own judge of how completely you want to burn bridges with this guy when figuring out how to dump this news on him.
posted by GardenGal at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2008

The two of you entered into a lease which states that the leasees are responsible for the rent and utilities. You are moving and paying the remainder of your rent to the landlord. Does that terminate your lease or are you still on the lease? If you're on the lease, then you are still responsible for the utilities.

I get it, you hate your roommate. However, he entered into a contract based on the belief that he'd have a co-leasee to split the utilities. Your decision to leave doesn't end your responsibilities to meeting the terms of your lease.

Is there some sort of renters mediation service available in your community? They might be able to help.
posted by 26.2 at 11:06 AM on July 3, 2008

What the crap are people talking about? When it says the tenants are responsible for the utilities, it says the landlord is leaving all of that mess up to the tenants. It doesn't even imply tenants need to have utilities--you could be living without electricity, Internet, cable, and gas for all your landlord cares, provided you keep paying him or her rent.

And there's no implication that the tenants have to split the utilities, either.

The utilities are completely separate from the lease. They are you and your roommate's issue. Seriously, your landlord doesn't care. Just cut them off and tell your roommate to put the bills in his own name. This isn't a complicated legal issue.
posted by schroedinger at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2008

you could be living without electricity, Internet, cable, and gas for all your landlord cares, provided you keep paying him or her rent.

Internet and cable, yes.
Electricity and gas? No. Renters need to be able to maintain the property.

Caveat - this is from my time working on commercial utility accounts. If you live in a small apartment building, your landlord may have different arrangements.

In community apartments, the electric to the single apartment unit is generally not turned off but reverts to the owner. That's why the landlord cares - if you discontinue service, service will revert to him. This is usually preferred to having to pay to turn the power back on to do repairs during the time the unit is unrented. That's why it's relevant if you are still on the lease - the landlord can come back and grab you for your share if you cancel the electric/gas accounts. This is especially true if your unit is individually metered which is highly likely since you are individually billed.

Either way, you can discontinue the account in your name. Call the utility. You should not transfer service to his name or SS#. Having worked for a large utility company, I can tell you that once your name and social security are associated with an account it's nearly impossible to remove. Don't leave your credit vulnerable, close the account even if your roommate needs to pay a new deposit.
posted by 26.2 at 1:58 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good to know, 26.2. I didn't know it ran like that, though it makes sense.
posted by schroedinger at 2:12 PM on July 3, 2008

But, 26.2, surely the landlord can't "can come back and grab you for your share" if the OP is already officially off the lease?
posted by GardenGal at 9:43 AM on July 4, 2008

That's why I asked if paying out the lease, gets him off the lease. The landlord can demand the money upfront if you vacate, but it doesn't mean that you're removed from the lease. Getting off the lease mid-term is tricky, especially if both renters signed one lease. Things like handling the security deposit and terms for the second renter all make letting one renter off the contract a problem. There is really no incentive for the landlord to let you off your lease mid-term.

If he's off the lease, then he's finished with the utility bills. If he's still on the lease, then the landlord can charge him for a share of the utilities which revert to the owner.
posted by 26.2 at 11:34 AM on July 4, 2008

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