Tenant calls , they are out of heating oil. Will I get in trouble if I winterize ?

16 Replies

My tenant of 2 years calls ( fair tenant , not good not bad ) they tell me they are out of oil . And they cant afford another $ 400 for 100 gallons . He wants me to fill it and pay me back . I tell him thats not going to happen , I dont lend money .I give him a number for energy assistance . He calls me 2 hours later and says that first he doesnt qualify , and second they are out of money . He says he has an electric heater . I explain to him that he needs to heat , the bathroom , the kitchen , the laundry room and the crawl space . To prevent the pipes from freezing . " I cant heat all that" I told him he must get oil by tomorrow 5 pm somehow ,somewhere , or I will have to kill the water and winterize the house . Read the lease , it clearly states that if there is no heat from , lack of electric or fuel due to tenant not paying the bill the landlord will turn off the water and winterize the pipes to protect the property 55 degrees minimum . If you cant afford $ 400 for oil , how can you pay for frozen pipes and water damage ? I will be there 5 pm to restart the furnace or to winterize the pipes . He says he will try .

Am I wrong for shutting off water and winterizing at that point ?

I rip out every oil tank in any property I purchase. Not worth the time or energy of priming when it's ran dry, most people can't afford the oil either.. My homes are typically more appealing to tenants because of the gas heat too.. Just something to think about... But I do not know your rights to winterized the property .....

I don.t know the specific laws in MD but I assume you cannot turn off the water. That is asking for trouble big time, especially in a liberal tenant friendly state like MD.

I would think the appropriate route is to buy some oil, bill it to the tenant, and evict if the tenant doesn't reimburse you for the oil. That assumes you have something in the lease that says such items are "due as additional rent". Without that wording you may not win in rent court and may have to file a breach of lease suit.

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I don't know if I could do it, I would probably push him as far as possible. try to get him to go to family or friends for help. Our oil company will take a credit card. You can use diesel and that gets you to a delivery, he could try that to get to pay day. I can't say you are wrong but I don't know the legalities of it.

Originally posted by @Dave Shellenberger :
I rip out every oil tank in any property I. . . My homes are typically more appealing to tenants because of the gas heat too.. .....

In Baltimore gas is appealing becuase the gas company can't cut off the gas in the winter. The oil company doesn't have to deliver oil.

I told him about the diesel , And I have the extra rent clause , but I dont want to start lending money to tenants . I told him credit card , family, friends , talk to his boss , due what ever it takes . I know its borderline on turning off water , I will see how tomorrow goes . Hopefully he gets oil .

I love natural gas , low maintenance .

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :

Am I wrong for shutting off water and winterizing at that point ?

I definitely understand your frusteration but yes you would be opening yourself up to trouble for cutting water. Not sure about MD but in Baltimore City it's actually a misdemenor to do that.

I agree with Ned. As painful as it is, probably best to make sure that theres heat there to protect your property from any possible damage.

What I need to invent is a valve for the water main that when the temp goes below 40 degrees automatically turns off the water and at 50 turns it on , and then have auto drains on the low points that open up at 2 psi and close at 10 psi . ( those are available) Have it tied in with an annoying alarm like a smoke detector .

I had something similar happen years ago. A tenant that I inherited had been stealing gas. The gas meter was locked and they cut the lock off. The gas company was going to pull the meter out in January. My plan was to turn the water off and winterized the house. The tenants ended up paying the bill at the last minute, but my concern was a burst pipe.

I'm not sure as to the legalities of it all. My thinking was that it's common sense if a structure is unheated, pipes will burst and make life even worse for the tenant.

I would probably buy about 50 gallons of oil and bill the tenant and start eviction.

I can't believe anyone still heats with oil. I cringe when I see propane tanks and oil is even worse.

That is a tough one to be in. I think your going to have to pay for the oil & try to get the money from the tenant later on. I can see turning off the utilities going really badly for you.

If you cut the water you would create unsanitary conditions and livability issues for the tenant. This could be seen as a self help eviction.

What is the typical usage per day for oil and what is the lowest amount of gallons the truck will deliver? I certainly wouldn't do 100. If 2 gallons are used a day then see if they would deliver 30 or something.

First see what the minimum is and then tell the tenant the truck will deliver less at XX gallons and that the tenant might have to pay for multiple trips if they can't afford 400 today. So for example 50 gallons at 200 and then 2 weeks from now 50 gallons at 200. The oil company might only make deliveries for a full tank order so would have to check.

Start eviction as a violation of the lease.

The landlords with these oil tanks have you thought about as part of the lease requiring an upfront escrow account before move in for the oil? For example if the average usage is 200 a month which is higher some months and lower others then you would collect 2,400 upfront with the lease.

I don't know just throwing things out there. There was another landlord posting on here the other day with the exact same issue.

No legal advice.

I hate to say it… Those actions may result in a lawsuit. Home repairs resulting from the lack of adequate heating could be an even greater cost. It is a no win situation. Cut your losses, get them out!

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :
If you cant afford $ 400 for oil , how can you pay for frozen pipes and water damage ?

Many years ago a guy in foreclosure that had his gas turned off taught me that keeping the water on a trickle will keep the pipes from freezing.

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You might have another problem. When the oil tank runs empty, all the sludge at the bottom of the tank gets into the heating system. Things can get clogged (especially the filter) and the heating system may not function.

I agree with @Aaron Alyea

Think of the costs associated with bringing in a plumber. Also costs associated with possible flooding. I would personally bring a few 5 gallon containers of diesel every now and then until the eviction process was over.

Problem is solved , the oil companies have a 100 gallon minimum . But he came up with enough money for 50 gallons , he paid me in cash and I called a friend of mine with a oil co and he said no problem , but I had to drive the truck since he would lose money if he paid his driver (overtime)