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What happens to a landlord if they can't afford to pay the tenants utility bills- they haven't put the utilities in their name.

Boise, ID |

My husband and I have a residential home that we rent out in Boise. It's been over 3 mths since my current tenant moved in & she still hasn't switched the water or sewer in her name. We received a past due sewer bill which states that if we don't pay it will be sent to collections. Then we received a water bill & contacted the tenant but she’s not responding. We can't afford to pay since we are currently in financial trouble. I know we can't have the utilities turned off, but if we don't pay the bill and the utility company turns the water off for non-payment, what then? Can we use her security deposit to pay her bills and demand that she replace that amount? Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves? Considering eviction but need money for a lawyer. We live out of state.

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Attorney answers 1

Posted

In almost any landlord-tenant situation, it really helps to know if there is a written lease, and if so, what are the terms of that lease? In this case, does the lease require the tenant to switch the utilities to their name? What does it say about whose responsibility the utilities are? If you have a good lease, the tenant's failure to pay the utilities could constitute grounds for you to terminate the lease and force them to move out.
As to the security deposit, again it depends on what the lease says the deposit can be used for. Most security deposits are only used to repair damage to the premises, but it's possible that you can apply the money to utilities. Again, it just depends on the lease terms.
If you're renting the house without a written lease, that's not a great idea. However, that would make this a month to month lease which you can terminate with just a written notice.

*This answer is intended for informational purposes only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship or give rise to any privilege.

Asker

Posted

Thank you for answering my question. To answer yours, we have a one (1) year written lease with the tenant. About utilities, the lease states: Tenant will be responsible for all utilities and services required on the premises, except that Landlord will provide the following: HOA fees. The Tenant is responsible for contacting all utility providers and changing billing into their name upon possession of property. In regard to the security deposit, the lease states: If Tenant breaches any terms or conditions of this lease, Tenant shall forfeit the deposit, as permitted by law. What does Idaho law permit? Can you tell me, is it true that we can’t allow the water company to shut off their water? Also, will we get in trouble or fined if we can’t afford to pay her utility bills? Also, what does it usually cost to hire a lawyer to evict someone?

J Patrick Diener

J Patrick Diener

Posted

The law states that you cannot turn off the tenant's utilities. Without doing research on the subject, I'm not sure what happens when a landlord just can't pay the utilities, but given that the lease makes those the tenant's responsibility, I think you would have a good argument to defend yourself should the tenant bring an action against you for letting the utilities be shut off. Based on the terms of your lease, it sounds to me like you can use the security deposit to cover the utilities, and it will still be up to the tenant to pay you back. The cost to evict someone varies, and I have never done one in Ada County. If the tenant doesn't resist the eviction I have been able to do it up here in Washington for a few hundred dollars. If they do resist, however, an eviction can cost in the thousands, because it takes more time and effort to overcome the tenant's defenses.