California is currently facing a water shortage problem and some municipal utility agencies (“utility agency”) are imposing restricted water allotments. Exceeding the allotment may result in a steep penalty assessed against the landlord.

The problem is that the landlord may not know and/or have evidence of which tenant(s) is abusing their water allotments because the tenants share a water meter. How can aCalifornialandlord of multiple residential units sharing one water meter mitigate or eliminate this risk?

The first step is to determine if the utility agency has implemented water conservation regulations and restrictions that may result in penalties. If so, then:

  1. Confirm that the utility agency’s water allotment for your residential units is based on the actual occupancy of the rental unit; and
  2. Determine the landlord’s liability risk by comparing tenants’ past water usage with the utility agency’s current water conservation restrictions. If the landlord faces liability exposure, then the landlord is encouraged to:
  • Request the utility agency’s fact sheets/fliers related to the water shortage and any low flow water devices the utility agency may be distributing free, such as low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators.
  • Landlord  may consider whether to purchase and install additional water conservation devices such as low-flow toilets. The utility agency may offer retrofit rebates for low-flow devices and rebates for high efficiency clothes washers.
  • Educate tenants of their current water usage in relation to the utility agency’s  water allotment. Landlord may distribute the Utility Agency’s relevant  fliers.
  • If the tenants are under a month-to-month rental agreement, or less, or if the landlord is making a new/renewal of a fixed-term lease, the landlord may consider changing the rental agreement’s terms by giving a  written 30 Day Notice to Change the Terms of Tenancy of such new conditions using the example below:

Water Shortage Emergency

The [Name of Utility Agency] provides water to your rental Premises at [Premises]). The utility agency has announced that it “faces a serious water shortage this year due to the

ongoing drought. As a result, the City Council has declared a Stage 3 water shortage emergency.

Effective immediately, all [Utility Agency] customers will be subject to the regulations and restrictions on water use. All customers are urgently asked to make every effort to conserve water and abide by the below regulations and restrictions.”* The [Utility Agency] has assigned a monthly water allotment for the premises of _____ gallons per day. Excessive water usage penalties will be charged to the landlord for any water use that exceeds this basic monthly allotment.

(Optional): A low flow shower head will be installed on your shower head, which shall not be changed without the landlord’s written consent and shall be at the tenant’s own expense.

Because of the water shortage emergency, the following outdoor water restrictions are made part of your rental agreement during the time that the [Utility Agency] continues to impose its water restrictions:

  • Reduced  watering shall be performed of the lawn and only between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.
  • Watering  of garden (i.e., flowers and fruits/vegetables) shall be performed sparingly and only between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.
  • No washing down of hard or paved surfaces
  • No washing of the exterior of the premises and
  • No indiscriminant running of water that is without a reasonable purpose

(Optional):  Attached are [identify the Utility Agency’s relevant materials given the Tenant(s)]. Landlord and Tenant(s) consider each term, covenant, condition and provision under this paragraph, “Water Shortage Emergency”, to be material.

Landlords may also want to consider the installation of water sub-meters for tenants who are on a month-to-month rental agreement, or less, or prior to renewing a fixed-term lease. But sub-metering may not be allowed in your location. It is imperative that you first check with the local ordinances to determine if this is an acceptable practice in your area.

*Quoted from Santa Cruz Municipal Utilities materials; review your own utility agency’s materials for similar language to quote for your tenant.

Disclaimer: The following does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of any legal matter. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  James W. Duffy practices law in a variety of areas, including landlord-tenant. Please visit his website for additional information, www.lawofficeofjameswduffy.com.

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