If lease says you're responsible, you are
Question: In our building we're responsible for utilities. Only the electric is individually metered; according to our lease, we're responsible. In the beginning of our term we weren't charged for the other utilities. At six months, we started getting a bill from a mainland vendor for sewage, trash, water, and start-up and administrative fees. In none of the leases is this company mentioned, nor were we notified this bill would be coming. The management company said it divides utilities by the number of people officially on the leases to obtain the fees. Is this legal? How is this fair when many people that live here aren't on leases and still using water? How is it fair if some people conserve water? How is it fair that we're charged fees by this outside vendor? For electric, we each individually set up accounts.
Answer: According to Mike Callahan, Legal Aid housing attorney: Since you admit the electric is individually metered, we don't need to address the electric issue. As far as the others, if your lease states you're responsible, then you're responsible. The lease doesn't have to specify the vendor the landlord is going to use, as long as it's reasonable. Also, if there are administrative fees, there's probably no way around that. If the management company apportions the amount charged based on the signatories on the leases, that's a pretty reasonable way to go about doing it -- although you can propose that it be per household member; but then there's a problem of substantiating those numbers.
There is one fact you mention that may be an issue. If you were not charged for a certain period at the beginning of the term, and only after a certain time were charged, there may be an issue of waiver.
Under the common law of contracts, if they didn't enforce that term (charging for utilities) the management would have to provide a written notice saying from that point forward they're going to enforce it. They couldn't charge retroactively, but if you've been paying it, it'd be splitting hairs now because practically speaking, regardless of whether you were given notice, you've been paying.
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