Water Has Been Shut Off Due To Landlord Not Paying The Bills. What Recourse Does the Tenant Have?


My landlord has just gone through bankruptcy and all of a sudden our water was shut off. I contacted the company and they said I'd have to pay the past 3 months' bills before the water can be turned on. The problem is that according to the rental agreement, the landlord pays for water, so the account is under my landlord's name. What should I do?


It's not unusual for tenants to suffer when their landlords fall on hard economic times. Maintenance goes down, the rent may go up, and often the downward spiral ends with the tenant moving out. Failing to pay the water bill is an extreme example of cutting corners.

Many states have addressed this difficult situation, by setting up a system whereby innocent tenants don't have to pay for their landlords' mistakes. California recently passed such a law; since July 1, 2010, utilities that supply residential rental properties must give the residents a ten-day notice of their landlords' arrears and the company's intent to stop service. The notice must tell tenants that they have the right to become customers, without having to pay the past due amounts. Tenants may deduct the periodic payments from the rent. Ca. Public Utilities Code § 777.

If your landlord filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, in which many past debts are wiped out, the water company may not even stand a chance of getting paid. But that's of no concern to you. If you're lucky, your state will have a system like California's that allows tenants to obtain the services their rent is supposedly paying for.