Frequently Asked Questions about Utilities for Landlords and Tenants
Topics on this page
- What Are Utilities?
- What Utilities Must a Landlord Provide?
- Who is Responsible for Paying for Utilities?
- Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant for Utilities?
- Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant Late Fees for Unpaid Utilities?
- If Tenant is Responsible for Paying Utilities, Does Tenant Have To Give the Landlord Account Information?
- Who Pays the Deposit With the Utility Company for a New Account?
- Is the Landlord Allowed to Shut Off Tenant’s Utilities?
- Can Tenant Withhold Rent if Utilities are Not Paid For/Shut Off?
- Can Tenant Set Up Own Utilities Account if Landlord Refuses to Pay Utilities Agreed Upon?
- Does Tenant Have the Right to a Single Meter in a Multi-Unit Building?
- Can Landlord Use Tenant’s Security Deposit for Overdue Utility Bills?
- Can Utility Company Terminate Tenant’s Service During Extreme Heat or Cold?
1. What Are Utilities?
Utilities are essential services necessary to make a dwelling livable. These include electricity, gas, water/sewage disposal, and trash collection. Basic utilities do not include cable TV, internet, or homeowners’ association (HOA) fees unless a utility, such as water or trash collection, is part of the HOA fee.
2. What Utilities Must a Landlord Provide?
Landlords must provide a safe and habitable dwelling for their tenants. This is known as the implied warrant of habitability and ensures tenants the right to a dwelling that meets basic living standards. Maryland requires landlords to provide access to heat, light, electricity, hot/cold running water, and adequate sewage disposal. Air conditioning, cable TV, and the internet are not required utilities for the landlord to provide access to, but it is common that they do.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-211
3. Who is Responsible for Paying for Utilities?
Landlords must provide access to basic utilities, not necessarily pay for utilities. The lease agreement determines who is responsible for paying for the utilities. A lease may be written or oral, but in some instances a written lease agreement is required.
Written leases are required for any lease that is 12 months or longer or for any landlord who rents out five or more dwelling units in Maryland. The written lease agreement must include whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for paying for the utilities.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-208
If your lease does not include any terms about who is responsible for utilities, you should not sign or agree to the lease. The law does not provide any default liability as to who must pay (i.e., the law does not fill in the blanks if your lease is silent on this issue). If you have already signed the lease, talk to an attorney to evaluate your situation and figure out who must pay for the utilities.
4. Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant for Utilities?
Landlords may charge tenants for utilities, as opposed to the utility company charging the tenant. This typically happens when the utility (gas, electric, or water) is on a master meter, and there are multiple dwelling units within a building. Maryland’s regulations set out a detailed breakdown of how to calculate the bill for each dwelling unit.
Read the Regulations: COMAR 20.25.01.05(B)
For landlords of a building with only one or two dwelling units, they can charge tenants directly for water or sewer, but must:
- have a written lease that states the tenant is required to pay the landlord directly; and
- provide a copy of the water and/or sewer bill to the tenant.
Read the Law: Real Property, § 8-205.1
5. Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant Late Fees for Unpaid Utilities?
If the tenant is being charged by the landlord for a metered utility (such as gas or electric), the landlord can only impose costs and fees that were charged to the landlord. If the landlord failed to make a timely payment, the late fee must be subtracted from the tenant’s utility bill.
Read the Regulation: COMAR 20.25.01.05(B)
If the tenant failed to make a timely payment and the utility company charged a late fee to the landlord, then the landlord can impose that late fee on the tenant, but no additional amount.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Public Utilities § 7-303
6. If Tenant is Responsible for Paying Utilities, Does Tenant Have To Give the Landlord Account Information?
Yes, if this was agreed upon in the lease agreement. Read your lease agreement carefully. Some landlords require account information to ensure that the tenant changed the utility account to his/her name.
7. Who Pays the Deposit With the Utility Company for a New Account?
If the tenant has agreed to pay for the utility, then the tenant usually pays the deposit for the new account. If the landlord is required to pay for the utility and fails to make payments, the tenant may set up a new account and deduct the amount of the deposit from rent.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-212.3
8. Is the Landlord Allowed to Shut Off Tenant’s Utilities?
Landlords cannot intentionally turn off utilities or interrupt service of heat, running water, hot water, electricity or gas in order to force the tenant to leave the premises or to punish the tenant for late rent payments. This must be an intentional action by the landlord and not a result of a natural cause (for example, widespread power outages due to a storm).
Utilities may be shut off or interrupted if (1) the landlord has received a final court order awarding possession of the dwelling unit, (2) the landlord has given the tenant reasonable notice of his intent to cut off the utilities, (3) and the tenant had the opportunity to open a new account for the utility service in the tenant’s name.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-216
9. Can Tenant Withhold Rent if Utilities are Not Paid For/Shut Off?
If the utilities are shut off, the tenant has two options: (1) withhold rent and be subject to eviction or (2) continue to make rent payments into an escrow account created by the local District Court. The second option avoids eviction for failure to pay rent, but requires several steps.
First, there must be a serious or dangerous condition in the dwelling. This includes, but is not limited to, lack of heat, light, electricity, water, or adequate sewage disposal. Lack of air conditioning is not included unless the tenant can show that it poses a serious and substantial threat to his/her life, health, and safety. The tenant is not entitled to escrow rent payments if he/she was responsible for paying for the utilities and they were shut off because the tenant did not make those payments.
Second, the tenant must notify the landlord of the lack of or inadequate utilities. Notice can be given by (1) written communication, (2) physically showing the landlord, or (3) a written notice issued by the appropriate government agency.
Third, the landlord must have a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. It is presumed that within 30 days of the landlord receiving notice is a reasonable amount of time.
Fourth, if the landlord does not make the necessary repairs or turn the utilities back on, the tenant may bring an action in court asking that he/she be allowed to make rent payments into an escrow account. For more details on the rent escrow process, see Rent Escrow.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-211
10. Can Tenant Set Up Own Utilities Account if Landlord Refuses to Pay Utilities Agreed Upon?
If the tenant’s gas or electric has been or is going to be shut off, the tenant may create a new account with the utility company in order to restore service. The tenant will not be liable for any past due amounts owed by the landlord, but may be required to pay any previous amounts owed on other accounts under the tenant’s name. The tenant may deduct from rent any payments, including a security deposit, made on the new utility service account.
There are some requirements for the tenant to deduct the payments from rent. First, the tenant must have a valid lease (written or oral) which states that the landlord is required to pay for the gas or electric. Second, the tenant and landlord cannot be living together in the dwelling. Third, the gas or electric must be delivered through a single meter, not a master meter. Fourth, the tenant must pay all or part of the utility bill (including payments made on the utility service account) OR must pay any security deposit required to obtain a new utility service account.
11. Does Tenant Have the Right to a Single Meter in a Multi-Unit Building?
There is no right to have a single meter. Instead the landlord may choose whether or not to install a single meter. Typically when there is a master meter, the landlord will include the gas, electric, or water bill (whichever utility is on a master meter) in the rent amount and use the size of the apartment to determine how much of the utility the tenant likely used.
Read the Regulation: COMAR 20.25.01.05(B)
12. Can Landlord Use Tenant’s Security Deposit for Overdue Utility Bills?
A security deposit may only be used for non-payment of rent, breach of lease expenses, or damage to the leased dwelling unit, common areas, major appliances, or furnishings.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-203
The only way for the landlord to collect unpaid utility bills is to take the tenant to court and seek “additional rent.” This is only possible if the lease agreement stated that unpaid utility bills would be considered “additional rent” if the tenant and landlord ever went to court.
13. Can Utility Company Terminate Tenant’s Service During Extreme Heat or Cold?
A public utility company cannot terminate gas or electric service due to nonpayment on a day where it is forecasted to reach either 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below or 95 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Public Utilities § 7-307.1