Your tenancy agreement should say whether utilities are included in your rent or you need to pay for them separately. A landlord can require that a utility bill for your unit be put in your name directly, or they can require you to pay them for utilities that are in their name.
If a utility bill is in your landlord’s name, you can ask to see a copy of the bill when you are required to pay it. If you are required to have utilities in your name, you will be responsible for contacting the utility company and setting up an account.
When you are searching for rental housing, it is important to find out how much you will have to pay for utilities. If you have never had an account before or have bad credit, you may be required to pay a deposit to the company, on top of an activation fee. The cost can vary greatly depending on your situation. For example, buildings with electrical heating tend to have higher hydro bills. Are you prepared to pay hundreds of dollars over the winter months?
Utilities for a multi-unit building should be in the landlord’s name, and the costs should be divided fairly between the units. The Residential Tenancy Branch’s Policy Guideline #1- Landlord and Tenant Responsibility for Residential Premises states that:
A term in a tenancy agreement which requires a tenant to put the electricity, gas or other utility billing in his or her name for premises that the tenant does not occupy, is likely to be found unconscionable.
Unconscionable terms are illegal because they are oppressive or grossly unfair. See RTB Policy Guideline #8 – Unconscionable and Material Terms for more information.
If you have signed a tenancy agreement requiring utilities for a multi-unit building to be in your name, you may want to ask your landlord to amend the agreement and put the utilities in their name. If your landlord refuses, you can apply for dispute resolution at the Residential Tenancy Branch for an order requiring your landlord to comply with the law.
If you are required to pay utilities to your landlord, your landlord can issue a 10 Day Eviction Notice for Non-Payment of Rent if you have not paid your utility bill within 30 days of receiving a written demand for payment. If you receive this 10 Day Eviction Notice, you have 5 days to pay the full utility bill in order to cancel the notice. You can also dispute the eviction notice within 5 days if you believe that it is incorrect.
Your landlord should present you with your utility bill within a reasonable time of receiving it. If they have waited a long time to ask for utility payments, you may not have to pay. The legal principle of estoppel establishes that a party may not be allowed to enforce a legal right – for example, demanding money they are owed – if they wait an unreasonably long time to enforce it.
If your landlord gives you a bill for old utility payments, you can write them a letter explaining that you do not consent to paying it. If the landlord applies for dispute resolution for a monetary order, you can make the argument that estoppel should prevent the landlord from requiring the payment. Ultimately, it will be up to the arbitrator to make a decision based on the evidence presented.
A landlord may also give you a 10 day eviction notice 30 days after demanding payment for utilities, which you can dispute within 5 days of receiving it. To be on the safe side, you might want to pay the utilities within 5 days, in order to cancel the notice, and then apply for dispute resolution to try and recover the costs.
If you live in a detached unit (e.g. house, townhouse, manufactured home, etc.), and are paying for hydro, you may qualify for the Energy Conservation Assistance Program. Through this program, you can get a free evaluation of your unit and free energy saving devices, such as efficient light bulbs and showerheads. You will have to obtain your landlord’s permission in order to participate in this program. Here is the Application Form and Landlord Consent Form.