What should I know about rental utilities?
Authored By: Georgialegalaid.org
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Rental utilities in Georgia
What should I know? +
- What are rental utilities?
- What are my responsibilities?
- What are my landlord’s responsibilities?
- How do I protect my rights?
Electricity, natural gas, Internet, cable, and telephone, security/alarm systems, trash collection, and water and sewer are all examples of utilities. Most utility companies that offer electric, natural gas and telecommunications are regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). If you have a complaint about a bill or are dealing with the disconnection of a regulated utility, you can resolve your problem through the PSC.
Other utilities, such as cell phone carriers, cable or satellite television services, water and sewer service, or propane and butane are unregulated utilities. Disputes about billing and disconnected service must go through the utility company.
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You are responsible for setting up the utilities that will be billed to you. Your lease may require you to connect utilities by a certain date after you move in.To connect utilities at your new home, you must contact each utility company by phone, website or in person and tell them your new address and the date you need the service to begin. Try to start this process three weeks before you move. Many utility companies will require payment information when you set up the service. You may be charged a set-up fee in addition to your monthly bill.
You are responsible for paying your utilities. Your lease should identify who is responsible for paying for which utilities and which utilities will be paid for by your landlord. Ask your landlord if you are unclear. For instance, if heat is included in the rent, you’ll want to know whether the heat is billed through electricity or natural gas. If you do not pay your bill, the utility company can shut off your service as long as it warns you beforehand. If your service is shut off, the company can require an additional deposit, as well as the amount you already owe, before it restores service.
It is important that you understand which utilities are being paid for by the landlord. If utilities are included in the monthly rent, generally the landlord will establish the service. You don’t pay the utility company directly and instead the monthly rent includes the payment for utilities.
Your landlord is responsible for keeping the rental unit in good repair with functioning heat, plumbing, electricity and running water. If there is a problem, contact your landlord first. If the landlord does not address the issue, leaving you without heat, electricity or running water, you can contact your local code enforcement agency to inspect the property.
If you’re paying for the utilities, you should research utility costs and your budget before signing a lease.
Be aware of master metering. When the utility service is in the landlord’s name, master metering is when the electric, natural gas or water usage of multiple tenants is measured using the same meter. If you are responsible to pay that utility, the landlord will divide the cost of the utility used by all tenants and in the common areas between each tenant.
- You should clarify how utility bills will be calculated and paid before signing the lease.
What can I do? +
- What should I know about water utilities?
- What should I know about electric utilities?
- What else should I know about utilities?
- What can I do if I have a dispute?
- What can I do if my utilities have been disconnected?
Can a landlord with an apartment complex with only one water meter bill me for water?
The owner of an apartment complex may charge tenants for:
the water they use,
the water used in the common areas, and
the waste-water (sewer) service.
The landlord may use metering equipment to figure out the amount of water that each tenant uses. Georgia law says that the total amount of the charges to the tenants should not equal more than:
the total charges paid by the landlord for water and sewer service,
plus a reasonable fee for establishing, servicing, and billing.
Can a water company refuse to establish water service for me because the previous tenant failed to pay their water bill?
No. The water company cannot refuse to supply water to you because the old tenant did not pay. The water company must seek payment of unpaid charges from the person who used the service, not the current tenant.
I rent a home and the water coming out of the pipes smells strange. What can I do?
If you are worried about the quality of your water, you should talk to a state-certified lab and have it tested. You can have your household water tested through your local county extension office. Find at your extension office on the University of Georgia Extension Contact your County Office page.
Is it OK that the electricity bill is in my landlord’s name instead of mine?
If the bill is not in your name, it is a good idea to consider switching the bill to your own name. This is helpful in establishing your credit. If the electric service is not in your name, you can make the payment to the utility company. Even if the electric service is not in you name, the landlord should only interfere with the electric service in emergency situations.
My rent includes utilities. I have paid my rent on time but my landlord is not paying the electricity bill. What will happen?
If your landlord gets electric service from a Public Service Commission regulated electric provider (example: Georgia Power or Savannah Electric Power), the power company must:
give tenants at least 5 days written notice before disconnection,
the notice must be served in person on at least one adult in each unit, or
posted obviously on the premises when personal service cannot be made.
In this situation, tenants may want to organize to pay the bill. The electric provider must to accept payments from tenants for their portion of any past due amounts. The provider must issue receipts to those tenants saying that these payments will be credited to the landlord’s account. If you are seriously ill or the termination is scheduled during a period of either extreme heat or cold, you may be able to have the disconnection postponed by:
calling the company and
providing supporting evidence.
What happens if multiple people live in an apartment but the person whose name is on the utility bill moves out?
The previous tenant is responsible for closing the account in their name. If they don't, there may be additional charges on the account if the services are not canceled. Someone who is still living in the rental unit should apply for utility service.
The utility provider may need proof that the previous customer no longer lives at the location. The utility provider can disconnect service to a new customer if the previous customer who owes money on the bill continues to live at the address.
If I live in an apartment with a balcony, can I install a satellite dish?
The Federal Communications Commission adopted the Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule. This rule allows tenants to place antennas that meet size limitations on property they rent and areas like a balcony or patio. The rule covers:
"dish" antenna that are one meter or less in diameter, and are
designed to receive direct broadcast satellite service, including direct-to-home satellite service, or
to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals via satellite.
The rule does allow landlords to enforce restrictions needed for safety or historic preservation.
I am considering renting a house which has a septic tank. Should I be worried?
If your water is not supplied by a city or county drinking water system, chances are you have a septic tank. Properly installed and maintained septic tanks normally function well for many years.
Prior to renting, ask the previous tenant or the landlord when the septic tank was last emptied and if it has been repaired recently. Any person who cleans or removes the contents of septic tanks must have a permit.
You should check for the following signs that the septic tank may have a problem:
foul odors in the home or yard,
wet or spongy places in the yard, and
slow draining toilets or sinks.
I am renting a house that has water supplied by a well. I am worried that the well water is unsafe. What can I do?
If your water is supplied by a private well, the owner of the well is responsible for testing and treating
the water to avoid any possible health risks. If you think there may be a problem with your well water, you need to notify your landlord. You can request that the landlord have the well tested. You can have your household water tested by contacting your local county extension office.
If you have a problem with one of your utilities, it is important to know who to contact. Some public utilities that offer electric, natural gas and telecommunications are regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). Check the PSC website to see if the utility you have a complaint about is regulated by that agency (these are called “regulated utilities”). If it is a regulated utility, then you can file a complaint on the PSC website.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates telephone carriers and cable and satellite services. At the FCC Consumer Complaint Center, you can file a complaint. For general questions, call 1-888-225-5322.
If your problem is with an unregulated utility, you must contact the service provider to deal with a dispute. Unregulated utilities include water and sewer service or propane and butane as service.
When can a gas or electric company disconnect service?
If you do not pay your electric bill forty-five days after it is due, the electric company may disconnect your service. Before turning off the electricity, the company must send a notice at least five days before the date of disconnection. The disconnect notice must look different from the past bill for service and state:
- The earliest date for the proposed disconnection,
- The amount due and the reason for the propose disconnection,
- A telephone number you may call for information about the proposed disconnection,
- How to prevent disconnection of service,
- Information known to the utility that may assist the consumer in paying the bill.
At least two (2) days before proposed disconnection, the utility must try to make personal contact by:
- certified mail,
- or other methods designed to notify you of the disconnection.
The date of the disconnect must be a business day when a representative of the utility is available to receive payment from the customer.
When can a gas or electric company NOT disconnect service?
Utility companies cannot disconnect gas or utility service:
between November 15th and March 15th if the forecast says the temperature will be below 32 degrees or
during the summer if there is a National Weather Service Heat Advisory or Excessive Heat Warning (generally above 98 degrees).
Although service cannot be disconnected during these times, you must agree in writing:
to pay the past due amount and
pay the bill for the current service.
If you continue not to pay after the seasonal hold is over, your service will be disconnected. You will have to pay the past due amount as well as an additional deposit before you can get it reconnected.
If someone living in the home has a serious illness that could get worse if there was no electricity or gas, your service cannot be disconnected for not paying. But, you must:
Notify the company of the illness in writing.
Within 10 days of giving notice, you must provide a written statement from a doctor, the county board of health, a hospital or clinic. The notice must identify the illness, says how long it is expected to last, and say that it would get worse if the utility is disconnected.
What can I do if my service is disconnected or about to be disconnected?
If your service for a gas, electric, or water is disconnected or about to be disconnected, you must first contact the utility company. You may be able to apply for a payment plan to pay off the past due amount over time. You might also qualify for a cost-reduction program for low income households.
You might be eligible for a grant through Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to pay your heating and cooling bill. The Georgia LIHEAP program offers help with paying energy bills and with weatherizing your home.
There are social service agencies, churches and non-profit organizations that provide emergency help for utilities. You can find local services:
through the United Way’s 2-1-1 database by dialing 2-1-1,
texting your zip code and need to 898-211, or
searching the 2-1-1 database online.
Tips for lowering your utility bills:
Many utility companies offer tips to customers for conserving electricity, water, and gas. Check the company's website or in their bill inserts or brochures.
Some utility companies offer a budget billing plan that allows you to pay a flat fee each month for services, which can help you budget your monthly expenses. But, these plans require you to eventually pay any amount you've incurred above your flat monthly fee. Whether the plan is useful depends on your ability to keep your use to a minimum to help prevent getting a high bill later.
Consider doing an energy audit. An audit involves finding out where you’re wasting energy and how well your heating and cooling systems work. The U.S Department of Energy offers a self-help energy audit tool to help you do this.
Resources to help you pay your utility bills:
Visit Georgia’s HUD.Gov Help With Your Utility Bills resource.
Visit the Georgia Public Service Commission website to compare utility rates and choose the best utility companies in your area.
Visit Heating Energy Assistance Team, Inc (H.E.A.T.)’s Help page to learn more about paying your winter heating bills.
Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) page to find out about this federally-funded program to help eligible low income households meet their home heating and/or cooling needs.
To learn how to help older Americans avoid loss of utility service, read the National Consumer Law Center’s resource for assistance, strategies for becoming current on utility bills, and fighting a termination of services.
- Check out the Your Household Water Quality: Odors in Your Water article by the University of Georgia Extension to try to figure out the cause of the odor. If you figure out that the smell is from the water source line, call your water provider – especially if your neighbors have the same problem.
- Visit Georgia Public Service Commission’s Consumer Corner page to learn more about high utility bills, service disconnections and deceptive marketing.
- Visit Georgia Relay for phone services for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech-impaired Georgians.
- Read FCC’s Installing Consumer-owned Antennas and Satellite Dishes resource to learn more.
- Read the University of Georgia’s Beginner’s Guide to Septic Systems to learn more about septic tanks.
- Visit the University of Georgia’s Soil and Water Testing Services resource to find your local county extension office.
- Read the National Consumer Law Center’s Dealing with Utility Companies resource to learn how to handle your disputes with your public utility companies about bills and utility deposits.
- If your utility service is disconnected, read the National Consumer Law Center’s resource.
- Visit the Dealing with Weather Emergencies page from the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer tips for consumers who may be facing major repairs after a disaster hits home.