Rights of Tenants: Heat and Utility Charges for Common Areas
Can the landlord make me pay for heat and utilities outside of my apartment?
If you live in an apartment building, you may find out that you are paying for heat, lights, or other utilities for "common areas." This includes, for example, hallways, basements, or a common hot water heater or furnace. It is illegal for your landlord to make you pay those costs alone. For example, the hall lights should not be hooked up to your meter.
If you find out that you are paying for heat or utilities going to "common areas" or to someone else's apartment, take these steps.
- First talk to your landlord. Ask her to put in a separate meter or to lower your rent to make up for the extra money you are paying.
- If you agree to lower your rent, do it in writing. Write down exactly how much less rent you will pay in exchange for paying for the extra heat or utility costs.
- If you have been paying these extra charges for some time, ask your landlord to pay you back. If you cannot figure out how much you should be paid, check with your heating or utility company or city electrician to find out if they will help you.
- If your landlord refuses to pay what is fair, you can sue. If you win, you can get $250.00 or your "actual damages" (how much you lost), whichever is more. The landlord will have to pay your court costs and lawyer’s fees. Or you can file your claim in Small Claims Court on your own.
Caution: If you are not ready to move, think about whether you want to sue now or later. Read the section on Evictions. If you are not protected by a lease, then you may want to wait and sue after you have moved or are ready to move, in case the landlord retaliates with an eviction.
Revised August 2010