Depending on your lease, your water bill can look very different. In some apartment buildings, the landlord receives the water bill for the whole building and simply divides it among the tenants. In other buildings, there may be a submetering system that allows the landlord to bill you for the actual amount of water used. In some complexes, your water bill may simply be a part of your monthly rent. In general, though, a submetered water bill makes the most sense — you pay only for what you use, rather than what your neighbors use.
Cheryl McKinzie lives in a Dallas, Texas apartment complex. Texas laws recently changed, making it possible for her complex to bill her for her water usage. Previously, because the complex does not have submeters for individual apartments, her water use was included in her rent. Cheryl’s preference would be for a complex with submeters and individual bills for each apartment. “When the regulations changed, and it was made possible that apartment complexes could bill for water, they did not reduce my rent so that they could bill for water. They just added another bill…my rent went up, and I have to do arithmetic.”
The billing system is not even, according to Cheryl. “I pay the same water bill as my upstairs neighbors who have three people living in the same size apartment. I use a lot less water than three people on showers, dishwasher, clothes, etc. There is a 2-bedroom in this complex that is 47 square feet larger than mine. There is one apartment that I know of that has five people in it (students). I have paid for their water month after month…I realize that they say we are not paying for the pool, the sprinkler system, the clubhouse, the offices, but they are all billed together on one massive water bill. How does the management determine what is theirs? I am pretty sure I am paying for the pools I never use.”
Before you decide to sign a lease, it’s important to check how your utilities will be divided. It’s also important to be aware of what your legal rights are. In many states, submetering may actually be required. In New York, for instance, landlords must either install submeters for each unit or hold the utilities in their name. Because there are several ways that unscrupulous landlords can take advantage of tenants when it comes to utility bills, it’s important to be very aware of how you’ll be charged for utilities.