Q: My husband and I rented out our home in north Minneapolis. Unfortunately, our tenants stopped paying rent, and we had to evict them. We found our house completely destroyed by the tenants; they also stole some of our appliances.
After we informed all the utility companies involved that we had evicted our tenants, we then had the accounts transferred back into our name. We received a bill from the city of Minneapolis, for water and trash, totaling $668. These charges are the tenants’ responsibility, but the city said we are responsible for the charges, since we own the property. It states in our lease agreement that our tenants are responsible for all utilities, and our tenants signed off on it. Do we have to pay our tenants’ outstanding utility bill, or is there another solution?
A: The law indicates that the property owner is responsible for outstanding utility bills for water and trash. But the law also offers the owners relief via bringing an action in Conciliation Court or District Court to obtain a judgment against tenants for their outstanding utility bills.
In the future, you may want to leave the utility bills in your name for your own protection against getting stuck with your tenants’ bill when they move out. Many homeowners leave the utility bills in their own name and pay them monthly, but increase the rent to cover those utility costs.
The law states that utility bills may be in the tenant’s name in single-family homes, such as yours in this situation, if stated in the lease. However, properties with two or more dwelling units and only one meter must have utilities remain in the owner’s name.
In Minnesota, there is an Energy Assistance Program for renters and homeowners who meet income-eligibility requirements, to help provide financial assistance with utility bills. Your tenants may have been able to get their utility bills covered by this program if they met the eligibility requirements.
Under state law, the property owner is protected from liability for some types of tenant utility bills. The statute doesn’t allow utility companies to recover payment from the owner on a tenant’s outstanding bill for natural gas or electricity. The problem for property owners is that water and trash are not included in that statute, so your tenants’ water and trash bill for $668 becomes your responsibility.
Under state law, the city can put a lien on your property for any unpaid water and trash bills. However, as stated earlier, you can get relief by filing a Conciliation Court claim against your tenants for their outstanding utility bills, plus any rent owed, and the cost of your stolen appliances.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Suite 1300, Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.