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Gerald-Esquire
Gerald-Esquire, Other
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 3987
Experience:  30 Years of experience.
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We are renting a portion of a home in San Diego, Ca. We rent

Customer Question

We are renting a portion of a home in San Diego, Ca. We rent the upper floors, and others rent the subdivided lower floor. The home has a split meter for the two units’ utilities. I just learned that split meters require a specific written agreement spelling out exactly how a split meter’s utilities will be paid (Civil Code Section 1940.9, Public Utilities Code Section 739.5. See California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, Paragraphs 2:170.1–2:170.9). We were not informed there was a split meter when we signed the lease, and the lease only says “Resident agrees to pay for all utilities and/or services based upon occupancy of the premises except water & trash paid.” We did not know about the split meter until after occupying the place and getting utility bills.
It took some time to realize that the bottom unit paid a fixed amount each month, and we were billed for the remainder each month. It took a very long time to realize how inequitable this billing was. We have been here about 5 years. Last winter we took special care to try to save money by limiting our reliance on utilities. We control the thermostat for the entire home - both units. Sometimes the family that lived below before the recent change of tenants would ask us to turn on the heater for them. It seems they compensated for us turning on the heater less often by running very resource-heavy space heaters. The utility bills ended up being even more expensive than before, with most of it being billed to us.
We have been requesting the landlord company to recognize the disproportionate billing and adjust the amount. They have reduced some of the amount they billed us, but nowhere near enough, and they have raised the fix amount the new tenants pay below when they recently moved in. We have paid some as we have tried to get proper bills (they keep sending incomplete ones, instead just giving us ledgers that could be made up with anything, and often include mistakes), and we have paid more recent utility bills they have sent. The landlord company has now informed us that if we don’t pay the entire past due amount of the utilities immediately, they will immediately serve a 60 day eviction notice.
What should we do? What are our rights? Considering that we have been charged random inordinate amounts for many years for our own and neighbors utilities, and the landlords have violated the civil code requiring them to inform us and spell out the precise payment structure for the shared utility, what should we do legally about the short term eviction issues, and perhaps the long term financial recuperation ones? There are other related issues that we can document such as failing to replace filters for many many months and running industrial fans and such that have raised or utilities, should those factor in as well.
Submitted: 12 months ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Customer: replied 12 months ago.
Hi, one more piece of information. We are planning on moving anyway, now. Our landlords don't know this. So, we are not ultimately trying to keep our place, but keep a fair amount of our money, and reclaim some if that is appropriate. This might be some leverage, but perhaps it also seems smart to resolve this before we give notice and move out.
Expert:  Gerald-Esquire replied 12 months ago.

Hello,

Thank you for using Just Answer. I want to provide you the best service I can. Please feel free to ask any follow up questions you have.

I am an attorney with 30 years of experience; I hope to provide you information that will help you in resolving your question.

The landlord's failure to disclose and make the proper adjustment for the electric bill is a violation of the California law. YOu already have the references as you have indicated in your question.

You can bring an action against the landlord to get an adjustment to the bills that you previously paid. You would bring the action in Small Claims Court. Prior to bringing the action the first step is to send a Demand Letter. Te Demand Letter describes in simple declarative sentences your position and the remedy that you desire.

By sending the Demand Letter you may get the attention and leverage that you want to negotiate a fair departure.

Also, you need to look at initiating the litigation before any statute of limitation expires. Since the date that you have learned about the split meter the clock has been running.

Here is a link to an article about how to write a good demand letter:

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/small-claims-book/chapter6-4.html

The statute of liimitations may be as short as one year from discovery of the fraud:

http://www.courts.ca.gov/9618.htm

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Good luck,

Please note: Information given is not legal advice. Only your local attorney can give legal advice. I can't establish or accept an attorney-client relationship with you. All posts are available for public viewing.

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