Unfortunately, not a totally uncommon scenario, when tenants vacate and leave behind a trail of unpaid utility bills. It’s happened to me on a few occasions, but it never seems to get less frustrating.
Here’s a quick and brief rundown of what happened the most recent time it happened to me…
One of my problem tenants’ recently vacated after being served an eviction notice for massively falling behind on rent. Lordy, let me tell you, what a pair of numpties! But I won’t get into that today.
Unsurprisingly, they left behind a whole host of unpaid utility bills, which is pretty routine when tenants fall into rent arrears. Experience has taught me that when someone is in rent arrears, they’re usually behind on other bills, too.
The unpaid utility bills totaled to approximately £400. Not an earth shattering amount in the grand scheme of things, but enough for me to get pissy about. Bear in mind, I had already accepted that I wasn’t going to recover the rent arrears (for various reasons), so I was extremely reluctant on allowing them (the husband and wife duo) burden me with their lousy utility bills.
Informing the utility provider of the situation
When I contacted the gas & electricity provider, Powergen (now known as e-on), to notify them that the tenants’ had vacated the premises because they had fallen into rent arrears, so to stop chasing the money from the property, I discovered that the tenants’ never actually transferred the accounts over to their name, they had only added themselves as mere contacts (that’s despite the fact that I told them to do so when they initially moved in, and they had assured me it had been done).
Upon hearing the news, I heard an almighty crash. It was my stomach falling out of my ass, because now I was certain I would have no get-out and I was destined to lose even more money because of these numpties! It’s not so much the money (although, that is definitely a concern), it’s more about that on the verge of getting away with murder. It’s particularly frustrating because I know I was a good landlord to them.
When the utility bills are registered under the landlord’s name (not the tenants)…
I know, I know, I should bear some of the responsibility! I should have been more diligent and checked for myself that they had transferred the accounts to their name. Lesson learned. That won’t happen again.
Fortunately, it seems as though I managed to catch a break.
The Powergen customer service rep informed me that if I could prove that my tenants were actually occupying the property during the period the unpaid bills account for, I won’t be liable, so they initiate a debt collection process on them instead of me.
The fact the account was under my name during her occupancy wasn’t going to prevent justice from being prevailed.
So I quickly emailed Powergen a copy of the tenancy agreement, which proves that my tenants had been occupying the property during the period the bill was incurred, along with a cover letter, which briefly reiterated the situation.
Bottom line: if you’re in a similar position, where one of your tenants vacated your property leaving behind unpaid bills, then don’t worry, all is not lost. Probably!
I say probably because I’m not sure how other providers would have dealt with the situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they held me liable because I was the official account holder. I’d like to think they wouldn’t, though.
When the utility bills are registered under the tenant’s name…
If it’s the case, that unpaid utility bills are registered under the tenants’ name, then I wouldn’t be worried at all. This has happened to me on a few occasions and it’s easy to resolve.
Remember, unpaid utility bills are not connected to the property itself, but rather the account holder(s). The only reason why my situation was nerving on this occasion is because I was still the account holder.
So if your tenant has vacated with unpaid bills and they’re the account holders, all you need to do is inform the utility providers, and they’ll stop sending the bills to your property. They’ll probably ask you for a forwarding address for the tenant, but don’t worry if you don’t have one (many landlords won’t have one in this scenario).
- This is a reminder why written tenancy agreements are critical.
While I never understand why it is the case, I know many
crazylandlords don’t bother getting a written contract in place. It’s truly mind-boggling.
- Don’t discard tenancy agreements, even after your tenants have vacated. In times like these they can prove to be extremely useful.
- As said, I can’t guarantee that all service providers operate under the same policy! But I’m – perhaps naively – assuming most do! So as long as you can provide prove that your tenant was the occupant during the period of the bill, they should be held liable.
- Whenever new tenants move in, ensure to check that all respective accounts get transferred over to them. I made the mistake of not checking, but from now on I will contact the service providers directly to confirm. Don’t trust your tenant your to do it!
Has anyone else had similar problems with tenants leaving behind unpaid bills?
Disclaimer: I'm just a landlord blogger; I'm 100% not qualified to give legal or financial advice. I'm a doofus. Any information I share is my unqualified opinion, and should never be construed as professional legal or financial advice. You should definitely get advice from a qualified professional for any legal or financial matters. For more information, please read my full disclaimer.