Burton: Landlords shouldn't be stuck with tenants' unpaid bills

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Monday, February 17, 2020 11:44 am

When someone rents a house or an apartment, they assume responsibility for paying their utility bills. In the past, smaller communities enacted ordinances placing the responsibility for tenants’ unpaid utilities on property owners. These local ordinances tied the hands of landlords who have limited options when their renter stops paying. A law I authored last year protects property owners from being held accountable for their tenants’ unpaid utility bills, but additional clarification is needed so the appropriate person is billed.

While most renters pay on time and in full, some can rack up several months’ worth of unpaid bills. Before my law, landlords were left on the hook. They could pursue a lengthy and costly eviction process when a tenant stops paying their bills, but the unpaid amount continues to increase. Utility companies can hold customers accountable by shutting off service and sending them to collections.

The law I authored last year requires municipally owned utility companies to bill renters directly for services for gas, electricity or water, unless the landlord and renter come to a separate agreement. 

After the law went into effect, there were some misconceptions throughout the state about who is responsible for these utility bills. At my request, the attorney general’s office released an official opinion affirming landlords cannot be held responsible for tenants’ municipally owned utility bills. However, some towns and cities found a loophole and required landlords to cosign with their tenants, which ultimately could still lead to the landlord being stuck with the bill. I authored legislation this session to clarify this law. My proposal would further define that only the occupant of a home or property is responsible for all municipal gas, electricity, water and trash pickup bills. This ensures that the person using a service, pays for the service.  

My proposal advanced out of the House of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate. Visit iga.in.gov to learn more, and watch committee and session hearings live. As we continue to consider legislation, I’m available to answer questions at 317-234-9447 or h58@iga.in.gov


State Rep. Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) represents House District 58,
which includes a portion of Johnson County.

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