We live in a duplex with one meter. The landlord lives in the other unit. Rental agreement is rent $1550. Additional monthly fee for utilites will range from $150 to $200 per month with normal use.
My other question is about the duplex it is not split into A or B or a 1/2 address (same street #) is this a legal duplex?
Is that what the rental agreement says? If so, it is not clear, but I'd argue that it is not a basis for the landlord to charge you more than the bill amount.
California law does not specifically regulate how landlords bill tenants for water and sewer utilities. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has held that it has no jurisdiction in the vast majority of landlord-tenant billing relationships. Because there is no direct regulation or guidance from the CPUC or statute, it is important that all facets of the landlord-tenant billing relationship for utilities be agreed to in writing.
In California, if the utility meter for your rental unit is shared with another unit or another part of the building, then the landlord must reach an agreement with you on who will pay for the shared utilities.
This agreement must be in writing (it can be part of the rental agreement or lease), and can consist of one of the following options:
-- The landlord can pay for the utilities provided through the meter for your rental unit by placing the utilities in the landlord's name;
-- The landlord can have the utilities in the area outside your rental unit put on a separate meter in the landlord's name; or
-- You can agree to pay for the utilities provided through the meter for your rental unit to areas outside your rental unit.
See California Civil Code Section 1940.9, which provides as follows:
"(a) If the landlord does not provide separate gas and
electric meters for each tenant's dwelling unit so that each tenant's
meter measures only the electric or gas service to that tenant's
dwelling unit and the landlord or his or her agent has knowledge that
gas or electric service provided through a tenant's meter serves an
area outside the tenant's dwelling unit, the landlord, prior to the
inception of the tenancy or upon discovery, shall explicitly disclose
that condition to the tenant and shall do either of the following:
(1) Execute a mutual written agreement with the tenant for
payment by the tenant of the cost of the gas or electric service
provided through the tenant's meter to serve areas outside the tenant'
s dwelling unit.
(2) Make other arrangements, as are mutually agreed in writing,
for payment for the gas or electric service provided through the
tenant's meter to serve areas outside the tenant's dwelling unit.
These arrangements may include, but are not limited to, the landlord
becoming the customer of record for the tenant's meter, or the
landlord separately metering and becoming the customer of record for
the area outside the tenant's dwelling unit.
(b) If a landlord fails to comply with subdivision (a), the
aggrieved tenant may bring an action in a court of competent
jurisdiction. The remedies the court may order shall include, but are
not limited to, the following:
(1) Requiring the landlord to be made the customer of record with
the utility for the tenant's meter.
(2) Ordering the landlord to reimburse the tenant for payments
made by the tenant to the utility for service to areas outside of the
tenant's dwelling unit. Payments to be reimbursed pursuant to this
paragraph shall commence from the date the obligation to disclose
arose under subdivision (a).
(c) Nothing in this section limits any remedies available to a
landlord or tenant under other provisions of this chapter, the rental
agreement, or applicable statutory or common law."
A duplex is most likely legal but a real estate attorney (or even a realtor) in your area can probably determine whether the property is legally zoned as a duplex.
This is a common question I have seen with landlords who move away and rent out their house at a flat rate plus utilities but keep the utilities in their names and simply forward an amount due to the tenant. Some tenants come to question seasonal increases and some landlords may refuse to share their bills.
A cursory review of your situation would say your lease charges you $1550 per month plus a "defined range" of $150-$200 per month for utilities. If the lease keeps a range and doesn't say that you pay the actual bill, you may not have a right to see the bill. This, however, means that the landlord may not be able to charge you more than $200 "with normal use." I find that these issues can more easily be resolved with speaking with the landlord as there is no State law that mandates you see your electric or other bill. More commonly, landlords sometimes include electricity in the rent up to an amount. For example your rent may be $1550 plus $200 for utilities, but if you consume more than the cap, you pay the difference. In this case you may demand to see the bill. Before making a decision, review the written lease for the exact terms.
As for a duplex not having two separate addresses. Generally local laws would clarify whether a property is a "legal" unit. Even so, they may share the same address. You may want to call the city or county to ensure that the landlord has a business license, if required, and any other documents needed.
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