Is Your Landlord Passing the Charges for Common Area Utilities Onto You, Their Tenants?
In Illinois, landlord-tenant disputes are all too common and often times, violations go unnoticed for the entire duration of the lease or longer. For this blog post, we thought it would be very helpful to inform our readers of one of the most discrete violations that do occur. Specifically, it discusses the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant with regards to paying for the common area utility service.
First, I will answer a question many of you may be asking “what is a common area?” A common area is considered to be an area within a residence that is available for common use by all tenants, or possibly groups of tenants and their invitees. An example would be a laundry room, or work-out facility, or a waiting area. To make things simple, the example we reference as a common area through out this short article, will be that of the laundry room.
Next, “Utility service” is defined in the Rental property Utility Service Act, 765 ILCS 735/1.1, that specifically states “Utility service includes electric, gas, water, or sanitary utility service rendered by a utility company to a tenant at a specific location.” Back to our laundry room example, if the washer and dryer uses gas or electricity to wash and dry your clothes, it would be considered a common area utility service.
The reason I mention this distinction is because of the intriguing possibility that a landlord could hook up the common area utilities and simply pass onto the tenant all costs for those services, therefore have the utility charges for those common areas be included on a tenants utility bill. Think about your electricity bill, generally a monthly bill may be between $30-$150, which makes it very easy to disguise and pass on the costs to a tenant. Universally, tenants understand that they pay different amounts each month for their utilities, depending on the amount of the utilities used. Which as we know, the amount used could be influenced by the weather or by a leaky pipe.
That being said, you see where I am going with this. Placing an additional $50-$75 on your monthly bill may not be something you immediately say to yourself, “Gee…there is no way that bill can be this much, this has to be fraud.” Again, one can easily see how these types of issues can go unnoticed for months or even years at a time. Nonetheless, Illinois clearly delineates the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in these situations and regulates those rights and responsibilities pursuant to authority of the Rental Property Utility Service Act (“The Act”), among others.
The Act specifically states “ No landlord shall rent or cause to be rented any unit in which the tenant is responsible by agreement, implication, or otherwise for direct payment for utility service to the utility company and in which the utility company billing for that service includes any service to common areas of the building or other units or areas used or occupied by persons other than the individual tenant and those occupying the unit with the tenant on the utility account…” Now of course there are a few exceptions to this rule such as if there is full disclosure to any potential tenant prior to offering an initial lease, etc…
If those exceptions are not applicable, but the general rule is, then “Upon proof by the tenant that the tenant was billed an amount for service not attributable to the unit or premises occupied by the tenant, the landlord shall be liable to the tenant for 100% of those utility bills.” Furthermore, the court may treble the damage award when the court finds that the landlord’s violation of this Act was knowing or intentional. The tenant may also recover costs and fees, including attorneys’ fees, if the amount awarded by the court for utility services is in excess of $3,000.00.
If you or someone you know, has an inclination that you are not using the amount of utilities actually charged to your account. Then you should request that your utility company come and inspect the premises and its service meters. Ask the company to provide you a written report or justification for why the charges for your services are so high, if they can not justifiably explain the increased bill then it is very possible that some service charges are being passed onto your utilities account. The consequences for this type of knowing conduct by your landlord could entitle you to substantial compensation and thus you should promptly contact Ball & McCann, P.C. Allow our attorneys to analyze the facts of your case and open their own independent investigation into your concerns.
If you encounter something within your rental property that does not look or seem quite right: take pictures of the meters and of the pipes connected between your unit and the common area; document any type of correspondence you have with the utility company and the landlord/property management company for your residence. Taking advantage of renters is frowned upon in every jurisdiction but if you live and rent in Illinois and encounter this situation, let Ball & McCann’s experience in handling these disputes guide you through the process of holding your landlord accountable for their unethical and reprehensible misconduct.