Q: I own an apartment building and I heard that some landlords use RUBS to bill their utilities to their tenants. What is RUBS and how does it work?
A: RUBS stands for Ratio Utility Billing System which can be used to divide the utility expenses of a multifamily building that does not have separately metered utilities. RUBS can be used to allocate electricity, gas, sewer, and trash costs at rental properties by using a formula that relies on various factors. Currently, California does not have any laws that prohibit the use of RUBS. There are many companies that you can employ to implement RUBS at your property. Additionally, there are also programs you can buy to independently implement RUBS.
Q: Rent control applies to my apartment building and I charge my tenants a $100 utility fee to cover water, electricity and trash. If I need to increase the utility fee will I have to comply with the rent increase caps?
A: No, you do not have to comply with the rent increase caps as long as your rental agreement or lease clearly states that the $100 fee is a utility fee and not rent. To increase a utility fee, you must provide your tenant with a 30-day notice of change in terms of tenancy.
Q: My tenant is required to pay for all utilities under the rental agreement. I found out that he did not switch the utilities into his name and has an outstanding bill with the electric company. Is this term enforceable and what can I do to enforce this term of my rental agreement?
A: Yes, this is an enforceable term of your rental agreement and your tenant is breaching your agreement by failing to pay the electric bill. You may serve your tenant with a 3 Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit for breaking this provision of your rental agreement.
Q: I rent a condominium to a married couple. When the lease was drafted the tenants were not responsible for paying for any utilities. I can no longer afford to pay the utilities for the tenants. Can I shift the responsibility of paying for the utilities to the tenant?
A: It depends. If your tenant is in a lease, then both parties must agree to this new term or you will have to wait until the expiration of the lease to change the utility provision. If the lease has converted to a month-to-month tenancy, then you may provide your tenant with a 30-day notice of change in terms of tenancy to shift the responsibility of paying for the utilities to the tenant. This notice must be in writing and properly served on the tenant.
Q: The tenants of my rental property moved out last month. After they moved, I received a bill from the water company that my tenants did not pay the water bill for the last month they occupied my property. I paid the water bill and would like to deduct the amount of the bill from the tenants’ security deposit. Can I do this?
A: No, you may not include unpaid utility bills on the tenant’s security deposit itemization as California law only allows for deductions of unpaid rent, cleaning costs and damages beyond normal wear and tear. You can demand payment of the water bill and then file a small claims lawsuit against the tenants for any unpaid utility bill.
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected].