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Paying the Water Bill

Produced by Annette Duke, Staff Attorney & Director of Housing Publications, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created March 2005

Who sends the water bill to the tenant?

The landlord is responsible for sending the bill for water charges to the tenant.

The landlord may contract with a separate company to take water submeter readings and to prepare, send, and collect bills.

What charges related to water cannot be passed on to tenants?

If a landlord bills you directly for water, he or she cannot pass along to you any fees related to submetering, such as:

  1. Fees for taking submeter readings or preparing or collecting bills;
  2. Fees for installing, maintaining, or servicing the submeter; or
  3. Cost of testing the submeter;17 (except in certain circumstances, see What can a tenant do if the submeter is not accurate?).

How often can a tenant be billed?

A tenant can be billed for water charges as often as the water company bills the landlord. Typically this is every three months. If you and your landlord agree, your lease or a written rental agreement may provide for monthly billing.

If a landlord bills you on a monthly basis, the payment is due 15 days after the bill is mailed to you. If you are billed less often than every month—for example, if you are billed four times a year—the bill is due 30 days after it is mailed.18

What if a tenancy begins in the middle of a billing period for water?

If your tenancy begins in the middle of a billing period for water, the landlord must mail you on the first day of your tenancy the reading of the submeter for the unit as of that day. You can be billed only for water measured on the submeter after this reading.19

What if a tenancy ends in the middle of a billing period for water?

If your tenancy ends in the middle of a billing period for water, the landlord must give you on the last day of your tenancy the reading on the submeter as of that day with a final bill for water used since the last prior reading of the submeter.20

What information must a water bill have on it?

Each bill for submetered water must clearly state all charges and all other relevant information, including:

  1. Current submeter reading and date reading was done;
  2. Previous submeter reading and date reading was done;
  3. Amount of water consumed since last reading;
  4. How much you are being charged for each unit of water;
  5. Total charge; and
  6. Payment due date.21

How much will a water bill cost a tenant?

It is estimated that in a residence that has installed water-conserving fixtures, typical water usage is about 45 gallons per person per day. This figure assumes that the house or apartment has its own laundry facilities. If laundry facilities are not present, typical usage is less, about 37 gallons per person per day.

The cost of this amount of water depends where you live. In Boston, a family of four using 45 gallons per person per day will spend about $602 yearly. In Cambridge, this amount of water will cost $724. In Springfield, it will cost $271. These figures all include sewer charges as well as water charges.

Your water provider (in most cases this will be the city or town where you live), can tell you the unit price of water, so you can figure out how much your water bill should be.22

What happens if a tenant does not pay the water bill?

If a tenant does not pay a water bill, the landlord may consider this nonpayment to be a “material” or significant breach of the written rental agreement. This means that a landlord could try to evict you.

However, by law you are allowed to “cure” nonpayment of a water bill and pay it any time prior to a court hearing on the eviction case.23 If nonpayment of a water bill is the only reason your landlord is trying to evict you and you pay the bill prior to the eviction court hearing, your case must be dismissed.

The landlord may also deduct unpaid water bills from your security deposit when you leave the apartment.24

Note

To evict you for nonpayment of a water bill, a landlord must send you a notice called a notice to quit. You do not have to move if you get this notice. To actually evict you, a landlord must file a court case and get a judge’s permission to move you out. If the landlord has in any way violated the written rental agreement or the law (for example, has refused to repair a leaky toilet), you can tell the judge about it in order to prevent your eviction.

What happens if a landlord does not pay the water bill?

Under the law, the landlord is considered the water provider’s “customer” and is responsible for paying the water bills. (Most water providers are cities and towns, not private water companies.) If the landlord does not pay, the water provider may take legal action against the landlord, but cannot take legal action against individual tenants.25

While a water provider can shut off the water if a landlord does not pay the bill, usually it does not. Instead, it puts what is called a lien on the property as part of the real estate tax bill.26 Before shutting off the water, however, the law requires a water provider first to send a tenant a notice about the date that the water will be shut off. This notice must also state that the occupants have a right to pay the amount owed or a portion of the amount owed to prevent the shutoff.27

Endnotes

17 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(j).

18 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(f).

19 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(h).

20 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(i).

21 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(f).

22 Some municipalities use a unit of measurement for water of 100 cubic feet (abbreviated as Ccf).  One hundred cubic feet equals 750 gallons.

23 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(f) last two sentences.

24 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(p).

25 M.G.L. Chapter 186, § 22(k).

26 A lien is the legal use of a piece of property as security for the owner’s debt. If the debt is not paid, the entity that holds the lien can take the property in order to pay off the debt.

27 M.G.L. Chapter 165, §11E.

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