Very Suspicious Landlord Behavior Regarding Utilities

6 Replies

Hi everyone, I signed a lease with my fiance several weeks ago for the lower in a duplex. When we signed, we were told that there was a washer and dryer in a shared basement for the tenants of the upper to use, and the landlord told us they cover water. I asked whose electric the washer and dryer was on and she said she'd check, didn't know. Later she said it was on ours but was factored into the rent. Huh.

When I called to get an average of utilities from the energy company (WE Energies - Wisconsin) I found out that the average heat/ electric for the lower was double that of the upper - the lower had an older woman, the upper a family. This seemed odd, but not impossible, though it gave me cause to check out the wiring of this home converted to duplex.

I traced everything out, and it's about as screwed up as I've ever seen. There is one hot water heater, on the 1st floor furnace, the 2nd floor furnace is on the 1st floor electric, as well as the second floor electric range and fridge. The well pump is on our electric as well as the water heater, water softener, and garage. I met the landlord to walk her through my findings (we don't move in for 9 days) and she got defensive, telling me that was the way it is and that it was factored into the rent.

Now I've never heard of having to surprise pay for a another tenant's utilities. She also told me they have no intention of rewiring/ adding a second water heater and my options were to deal with it or get out of the lease.

I opted to get out, but I'd like a bit of help from you knowledgeable folk in the legality of this and just what kind of leg I have to stand on if there ends up being any issue getting my security deposit back. Thanks for reading.

Hi John, That landlord could factor that into your rent however there sounds like there was a lot of easy electrical fixes that they didn't know how to correct and were not interested in fixing. In the state of wisconsin a landlord must inform the tenant of shared electrical. For example, if you have a fire alarm system on a 3 unit property that runs off of one tenants electrical you must informthat tenant of such and then the landlord is covered and it can be "factored into rent". You can have the electric utility providor come to your rental and track down things like you did yourself as a tenant and customer. If the property has undisclosed major shared electrical like you stated the landlord could be responsible for up to 2 years of electrical bill.

Sounds like you ran into a very poor landlord. If they do not return your deposit I woulddemand to know on what grounds. If they had you sign a non refundable holding fee form or something like that it could pose challenges. If you signed a lease already that would also pose more problems. You could leverage your findings to get you deposit back by informing them that if you do not have a check returning your full deposit by that evening you will 1. Take them to court for their illegal theft (granted they do not have proper paperwork entitlong them to keep the deposit) and 2. You will make contact with the utility regarding the issue, city hall regarding the issue and the city inspection department. Once they do place a tenant, you will stop by and visit with them explaining to their how they are being abused and how they can have the utility company come out to verify this violation. That should do the trick and you will have your deposit back and hopefully they take action to correct the issues as well or at least have the proper paperwork.

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Originally posted by @Kyle Hipp :That should do the trick and you will have your deposit back and hopefully they take action to correct the issues as well or at least have the proper paperwork.

Kyle, thank you for that concise information. Hopefully it will not come to that but it's great to have that advice.

Originally posted by @Chris K. :
To me "factored into the rent" means that utilities are included (Landlord paid). Is this not the case?

It is not the case. Even the one utility they did say they covered, water, had the well pump on our electric meter. I checked for a third meter for common electric and did not find it, nor did the utility company say there was one.

I'm assuming that "factored into the rent" is just their catch all answer for being caught. The house is also on the market (for sale as a rental property), which makes me wonder if they hoped it would become someone else's problem before we discovered it.

I followed up by calling the realtor selling the property and asked some general questions, and slipped in a few about the wiring and split utilities. It seems it's being both sold and rented without this information made available.

@John Markem Good for you for outing a landlord who is showing a lack of integrity and a lack of knowledge about utilities when it comes to rental property. Such practices are a black mark on our industry. All the best in finding a more suitable home for you and your fiance!