Apartment Utilities: Under Your Name or Your Roommate’s?

in Roommates on by

Paying for apartment utilities have been the cause of many conflicts and roommate splits. Many fights can be avoided in the first place, with a well thought out and negotiated roommate agreement. Even then, there are roommates who breach contracts, and refuse to pay for the utilities they agreed to pay for. It’s a touchy subject, and there are consequences, including the ability to get utilities in your name at your next apartment.

The Issue Is Trust

The issue comes down to trust. It shouldn’t come down to blind trust though, because you might get burned. Verify your roommate’s payment history at other apartments. Check references, including utility references that you can obtain from examining a credit report or from calling the utility companies with your roommate to verify a good payment history. You can’t just take someone’s word that they have a history of paying utilities on time. If they don’t want you to look into their payment history, then you should be concerned. At the same time, expect them to examine your payment history in detail as well.

What to Divide

Gas, electric, water, landline phone and broadband Internet bills are utilities that you’ll want to split with your roommate. Other bills that are sometimes classified as utilities, such as cell phone bills and cable television, are not utilities that you should be concerned with. Whoever wants it should pay for it, and if they allow the other roommate to use it, then it should be treated as a gift.

How to Divide Utilities

When deciding who pays for what, you should pick the utilities that you can’t live without. For example, if you can’t live without electricity and an Internet connection, then put those in your name. You can ensure that there won’t be a disruption of service when those bills are in your name. If you don’t cook at home often, and the natural gas stove is not a high priority to you, then let your roommate put that in their name. You should still make your share of the payments on time, but if your roommate fail make payments, you won’t be harmed if the service is shut off temporarily. Don’t put utilities in both your names whatever you do, to protect your payment history for future apartment rentals. Try to reach an agreement instead on how to divide the apartment utilities.

When Roommates Don’t Pay

Not paying for apartment utilities when they agree to do so in a written agreement can be enough grounds to evict your roommate, or to take them to small claims court for payment. You’ll most likely need to give them time to cure the breach, but if they don’t, then you need to send a demand letter. In the letter, explain how they’ve breached the agreement and send a copy of the agreement, highlighting the relevant clauses.

How to Deliver Demand Letter

Don’t just hand it to them because they live with you. Send it in the mail, specifically Certified Mail and ask for a signature upon receipt. You may need to file a complaint against them and submit the letter as evidence if they don’t make the payment. It’s a lot of hassle to take your roommate to court, and you have to weigh the time and fees versus the utilities owed. If they have a pattern of non-payment or late payment, you should consider ending the relationship.

Whatever arrangement you and your roommate agree to regarding apartment utilities should be in writing. Include deposits that need to be made, the amounts, and the dates that payments are to be made. You’ll appreciate this level of detail if there’s ever a dispute.

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