I recently was asked by one of our property management clients if tenants can be made to pay for water bills in Massachusetts. The client, who has just purchased a multi-family rental property in Brighton, said that the prior rental agreements stated tenants were to pay for all utilities, including water. He noted that there is not any sub-metering in place for water.
In other words, the rental property’s water bill now represents the entire property, and there is no way to split the amounts. His valid question is: “Is it okay to bill Unit 1 for 50% of the bill?” My first response was to revisit the Massachusetts law regarding water billing and sub-metering at https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartII/TitleI/Chapter186/Section22.
Here are some of the key points that touch on answers to questions about charging tenants for water bills in Massachusetts:
- A landlord can’t charge a tenant for water usage unless the water the tenant controls is specifically metered.
- Fully functioning water conservation devices must be installed by a licensed plumber on all faucets, showerheads, and water closets.
- The landlord must make a specific certification to the tenant regarding the eligibility of the water charges, and installation of water conservation devices and the sub-meter.
- These rules also apply to dwelling units that are directly connected to a meter installed by a water company (such as single-family homes).
To answer our property management customer’s question, my interpretation is multi-family tenants can only be responsible for water usage when a certified sub-metering solution is in place, and when all of the guidelines under the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are adhered to under Section 22, which covers definitions; sub-meter installation; testing; water use charges; and public housing development exemption.
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant as the advice, suggestion, or knowledge of a real estate lawyer, which I am not. Please consult an attorney if you are looking for legal advice on any issue concerning water bills in Massachusetts.
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