Having an issue with tenant not keeping up with oil for the heat

10 Replies

This is our first rental property and having an issue with the one tenant keeping oil in the tank . They call us to say the furnace is not working but then we find out it’s because once again he has run it to low and wants someone to come out to look at it when we already know the issue is the low oil ? Do we have the right to charge the tenant the fee for a service call since it’s their responsibility to keep up with the oil?

I would say you have the right to bill him for all costs associated with the service call under the circumstances. You should be terminating the lease for him placing your property in jeopardy. You need to get rid of this tenant and if on M2M simply give notice to non renew otherwise you will need to evict. .

I agree with @Thomas S. , they sound like they are problematic. I can understand one service call but two for the same thing is ridiculous. I write in my leases that the tenant must keep the heat on at all times and keep the temp above 50 degrees even when they leave town, for fear of the pipes freezing in winter. I did this after I noticed a gas meter missing on one of my rentals. The tenants hadn't the gas on in a couple years and the gas company removed it. 

@Lee Underhill , I would simply require that the heat be operable at all times. You can write in whatever you want. Whether or not it will hold up in court is up to a judge and state law, but if this property is in NJ I would assume it would be legal because you have cold winters. Letting the tank go empty can cause water and debris to get into your line and affect the filter and the furnace which could be costly. I would eat the first bill as a learning lesson for both you and your tenant but I would bill them for the second one for sure. Maybe then they won't let it run low . 

You can definatley charge a tenant for service calls that are their fault. I would ammend their lease if you don't have a provision for this. You may already have something generic that would cover this.

Also if they call for heat issues tell them to have oil topped off before you call out a repair person. Ask for a copy of the receipt where they filled the oil tank.

Oil heat remains problematic in the Northeast.  We caution buyers of properties heated by oil, and inform owners of the typical problems associated with oil heat before we take on management.

One major problem is when a tank runs out, all the gunk that has settled to the bottom of the tank ends up in the lines, filter and firing head.  That means a service call to replace filter, and often clean the head, blow out the lines. 

Definitely is a tenant caused problem--oil deliveries should be automatic, based on degree-days.  If the oil provider is on a "call-in" basis, the problem will continue. 

A few suggestions: 

1) enter into a service contract with the oil provider, increase rent by that amount amortized by 12 months.  Tenants should call the number for service contract with any problems.  Have the service company cc you with any service calls and what was done.

2) insist the tenant be on an automatic delivery with the oil provider--put in lease

3) consider changing the source of heating

Good luck!

I 100% agree with @Marc Winter about the automatic refilling. Tenants will forget to call and have it filled until it’s run out. Heck, I would do the same thing if I lived there.

In the property that I own that has oil heat, I have the auto-fill contract with the delivery company and I bill it back to the tenant at-cost. After one year of 2 zero dollar heating months followed by a $400 bill, I averaged out the projected costs over the 5 heating months ($50 oct, $150 Nov, etc) and put in writing with the tenant that any underage/overage would be settled at the end of the season (or mid-season if significant). It’s worked out much better since we all m ow what to expect.

Also keep in mind in a pinch you can use kerosene or diesel. So, if your tank runs dry and you need to keep a property heated until a proper oil deliver arrives you can use either of those. Kerosene is pricey, but cleaner burning than fuel oil. From what I have read diesel is identical or almost identical to fuel oil in most places.