Probably one of the biggest complaints I’ve been getting recently from landlords is that their tenants are running their electricity and gas all day and all night, and the landlord is getting a crazy PG&E bill. The typical question I get is how to force a tenant to pay the bill. Even worse, some landlords ask, “Can’t I just shut off the utilities to the property since the tenants aren’t paying for them?” The unfortunate news I have for these landlords is that according to state law, if the utilities are in your name, you have to keep the utilities on, even if tenants are going crazy running up the bill sky high. A tenant can sue you for wrongful eviction under California Civil Code 789.3 for turning off the utilities. I also tell these landlords that when an owner has a rental unit and pays the utility bill, if that owner fails to pay the bill, the utility company is going to come after the owner for the unpaid utility balances whether or not the tenants pay them since the owner is the customer of record for the utility bill.

That’s why you never want to have utilities in your name that are based on variable usage. If your tenants run up the bill, it’s your responsibility to pay the bill and continue to keep the services on.

A simple solution to this frustrating problem is to make your tenants responsible for these types of utilities in your written rental agreement and then let your utility provider know that your tenants have moved in and get the utilities out of your name. Then if the power goes out due to nonpayment, you won’t have PG&E or your tenants on your back since paying the power bill is your tenant’s responsibility!