Landlords sometime run into disputes about responsibility for utility charges, due to not speaking with tenants and determining ahead of time who will be responsible for paying utility costs. The most common options are to have a tenant sign up for electricity and natural gas services, or to include the cost of utilities in the tenant’s rent payments. Either way, to avoid being billed for a renter’s energy consumption, landlords must ensure that an arrangement for payment has been made.
Service Charges for Vacant Properties
Most regulated rate providers in Alberta are allowed to automatically charge property owners for any periods of time in which an application for services has not been submitted. Consequently, regulated providers will not discontinue services when a tenant discontinues services, meaning that the landlord may be responsible for any charges that arise during periods of vacancy.
It is the responsibility of property owners to contact energy providers and request a suspension of services. However, you or your future tenant may have to pay reconnection charges when you wish to resume services.
Seasonal Property Energy Charges and Disconnection
Rural properties that are wired for electricity service are charged for periods of idleness, even when service has been discontinued. Electricity distributors submit these charges in order to pay for the cost of maintaining nearby transmission lines and keeping the area wired to Alberta’s power grid.
If you choose to have electricity service terminated for your rural property, you are responsible for idle billing charges. These bills may be mailed to you on a monthly basis, or may be delayed for as much as a year. If you wish to avoid paying monthly administration fees and delivery charges, contact your provider and ask for service to be physically discontinued. However, you will likely have to pay a reconnection fee if you wish to resume electricity service, and these fees can be extremely expensive in some circumstances.
To avoid paying idle billing charges, you will have to ask your distributor to “salvage” your property, which means that the distributor removes power poles and lines, as well as your electricity meter. This should only be done if you have no intention of ever using electricity at the site again, as the cost of reinstalling the removed equipment is exorbitant.
Energy Plan Options During Periods of Rental Property Vacancy
For landlords who anticipate periods of vacancy, and property owners who have seasonal properties that are uninhabited for long periods of time, energy providers offer a variety of options, including:
- Automatically suspending service when no request for service is submitted.
- Automatically billing the owner when no such request has been made.
- Automatically billing the owner between October 15th and April 15th (or some variation thereof), and shutting off services during the remaining time.
- Contacting the property owner directly when an application for service is needed.
I am a landlord. I have a tenant and they are responsible for utilities. Why have I received a bill?
In the instance that a tenant has not called to set up utility services in their name, the default energy retailer will pull the land title for the property to determine the responsible party for utility services, as per their terms and conditions of service.
In order to correct this issue, your tenant(s) will need to contact the retailer to accept responsibility for services, effective the date that they moved in. If your tenants are unwilling to do so, you, the property owner, are responsible.
One option that property owners have is to request for services to be disconnected so that tenants will be prompted to call the retailer and set up services in their name.
I sold my home and ended services with my retailer. I recently received a bill for services after I sold the home. Why?
If the new homer does not call to set up utility services in their name, the default retailer will pull the land title for the property in order to check who should be billed. The registration dates for land titles can be up to 6 weeks after the actual date of sale due to delays at Service Alberta.
However, you can contact the energy retailer to inform them of the correct sale date. As such, incorrect billing can be easily corrected in this manner.
Can a retailer bill me for utilities if I have not called to accept responsibility?
If you are the property owner, default retailers have the ability to pull land titles and put billing in your name without receiving your permission or acceptance of responsibility.
The terms and conditions of service for retailers include a section for when there are no other customers registered at a site. A landlord benefits from having utility services at a rental property, since having utility services allows for the property to be rented. As such, the landlord is liable to pay the continued cost of having these services available for use.