As a landlord, you might experience challenging electricity, natural gas, and water utility situations where you are unsure of your rights and responsibilities. Read these frequently asked questions and answers to learn how you can avoid costly mistakes. If you cannot find the information you need, please contact our mediation officers.
- Who is responsible for paying utility bills at the rental property – the landlord or the tenant?
- Should I put the utility payment terms into the lease document?
- How to make sure my tenants understand their utility responsibilities?
- What if my rental property has a sub-meter?
- What to expect if my tenant moves out without paying the utility bills?
- What can happen if the previous tenants cancel their account, but my new tenants never sign up for utility services?
- What can happen if my tenants stop paying their water bills?
- How to enroll service between tenants? Who to call?
- Can I, as a landlord, apply on behalf of my tenant to register the utilities in my tenant’s name?
- Is the utility company obligated to contact the landlord before disconnecting the power or gas to the property?
- Who can I contact to determine if the tenant has set up billing?
- Who can I contact to enroll in service to avoid a pending disconnection?
- What is a Premise Vacancy Agreement (Landlord Agreement)
- Can I disconnect the utility services at my property between tenants?
- How can I resolve serious disputes with my tenants outside of court?
- Some additional resources for landlords
There is no official rule about who has to pay for utilities. The tenants might be paying for all utilities directly to a service provider, or the landlord might be paying for some or all of them. Either way, the utility company registers just one name for those bills, and only the person whose name is on the bill can access information about them.
Make sure the lease terms between you and your tenant clearly state who is responsible for utility payments. When the landlord keeps the utility billing in their name, some leases set out a fixed amount to cover utility payments or a fluctuating amount based on the bill.
If the amount to cover utility payments is fixed, you cannot change the lease terms unless both your tenant and you agree to it. However, if the tenant must set up a billing account for utilities in their name per the lease agreement, then no cost for these utilities will be part of the rental amount required to be paid to the landlord as part of the lease.
If your tenant is responsible for paying for water, electricity, and/or natural gas service, remind them to read and understand the terms and conditions of the service with their utility providers, such as cancellation terms, expiration date, charges, and any automatic renewal clauses. Encourage your tenants to set up service at least three days before the move-in. The lease agreement should be very clear about who is responsible for paying utility bills at the rental property.
If you are using sub-meters that measure the energy used by each rental unit, then advise your tenants of the sub-metering company name and contact information the tenants must use to set up utility billing in their names.
Provide this information to your potential tenant before they sign their lease. As renters do not have any retailer choices in a sub-metered building, some potential renters might consider this a deal-breaker. Your tenant also might want to check out the information in the Sub-meters for Rental Units tip sheet.
If the utility accounts are in the tenant’s name and they default on payments, the landlord will not be held responsible for charges billed to the tenant. The utility companies have to collect from the person whose name is on the account.
If your tenant is in arrears, the utility company can disconnect the services to your property for non-payment. Due to privacy law restrictions, the utility company is not required to notify you about this course of action or provide any warning to you. The company representatives will send a disconnection note to the customer of record (your tenant) via an email, phone call, or letter. If you need to reconnect the utility services at your rental property later, you will have to pay reconnection fees.
To avoid a potential situation involving burst pipes, flood, insurance claims, and so forth due to utility disconnection, you as the landlord might want to contact the regulated retailer and ask if they can set up a Premise Vacancy Agreement (Landlord Agreement, or Automatic Power Install) for you. Although this agreement will not prevent disconnection due to non-payment of bills, it can reduce the risk of disconnection when there is no customer on record. It will automatically transfer electricity or gas services to you or your property’s management company.
What can happen if the previous tenants cancel their account, but my new tenants never sign up for utility services?
When your new tenant doesn’t enroll for utility services, you as a property owner become responsible for all the utility charges that occur on your property from the date your previous tenants closed their account with their utility retailer.
Without an active customer of record for your property, the Regulated Rate Option (RRO) retailer (the default provider in your area) would pull land title and enroll the property owner when landlord agreements are not already in place. They will send you bills at your last known address, often based on the land title document. After receiving the charges from the distribution meter reading company, the regulated retailers have up to 12 months to bill out charges to the property owner.
Having Landlord or Premise Agreements in place at your rental property will ensure the charges are billed to you quickly and sent to the correct mailing address. To find the RRO retailer in your area, enter your postal code or city name on the Retailers and Distributors page.
The municipality owns, operates, and maintains the water utility, including the meters and water infrastructure. Some municipalities issue bills directly to consumers; others contact a private company to provide billing and customer care services for water utility customers. For example, the Town of Canmore issues the water bills for the residents of Canmore; ENMAX Energy Corporation provides billing services to the consumers in Calgary; Aquatera in Grande Prairie solely handles water utilities.
Typically, the water meter is assigned to the property owner. Some municipalities will not allow water billing in a tenant’s name, so all the payment arrears become the owner’s responsibility. In some cases, municipalities might add these arrears to the owner’s property tax bill.
Most landlords would want to start and end the billing of utility services at a rental property quickly. Most competitive retailers take longer to start and end billing due to the contract enrollment period, and most include set terms such as 1, 3, or 5 years. Therefore, setting up services with the regulated retailers (RRO) in your service area, where you are never on a contract, will allow the billing to be picked up quickly and can be ended quickly when a tenant moves in/out.
To save yourself time as a landlord by not having to call every time a tenant moves out, setting up the landlord or premise agreement ensures you will be automatically enrolled at the rental property between tenants. To find the RRO provider in your area, enter your postal code or city name on the Retailers and Distributors page.
No. Tenants must contact a retailer to set up billing in their name.
Is the utility company obligated to contact the landlord before disconnecting the power or gas to the property?
The landlord will receive a notice of pending disconnection for non-payment only if billing for the utilities is in the owner's name.
If the tenant is showing as the customer of record billing at the time of a pending disconnection for non-payment, the regulated retailer will contact the tenant and not the property owner.
Regulated retailers and distribution companies who read the meter will only share site information with the customer of record. When a tenant is showing as the billing customer, for privacy reasons, the landlord cannot receive information about the billing at his rental property. The landlord cannot find out when the tenants ended the billing or any other details related to the tenant’s account while billing. There is no centralized organization where a landlord can confirm if someone is set up for billing.
Having a Landlord or Premise Agreement in place will result in a landlord being automatically enrolled for billing when a tenant stops billing in their name. The landlord will see by receiving the first bill that the tenant has ended billing and moved out.
If you are not comfortable giving up the ability to access utility billing information at the rental property, keeping the utilities in your name would avoid this situation.
Only the Regulated Rate Option (RRO) retailers can turn off the electricity or gas for non-payment or when no one applies for service at the site. First, you should find the RRO retailer in your area by entering your postal code or city name on the Retailers and Distributors page. Then, click this RRO retailer logo to visit their profile page and find its contact information.
To avoid surprise bills or disconnections, you may consider setting up a Premise Vacancy Agreement (PVA) or Landlord Agreement with the Regulated Rate Option (RRO) retailer.
A premise vacancy agreement allows a landlord to determine what happens at their property when no one is set up for billing.
Contact your RRO retailer directly to ask if they offer a PVA or Landlord Agreement and what your options are. When there is no customer on record for your property, you will be automatically set up for billing. Keep in mind it can take up to a week for the PVA to become effective.
You can ask your utility company to turn off the services if you want to limit charges billed to you when your rental site has no tenants. Don't forget to check with your retailer if there are going to be any idle billing charges which you will have to pay. Some electricity sites are subject to idle billing charges whether the service is physically connected or not. The distributor levies these charges to recover the costs to maintain the transmission lines and keep the site connected to the provincial power grid.
There are three things to remember:
- During the winter months, retailers may choose not to disconnect services.
- You may need to pay a reconnection fee once you decide to turn the services back on. Ask your utility company about any reconnection fees. The cost to reconnect the service may be more than the monthly charges would have been (depending on how long the service remains off).
- If natural gas service is disconnected for six or more months, an inspection may be required at a cost to the customer.
If you have a dispute with your tenant related to termination, unpaid rent or utilities, security deposit, damages, repairs, or other disagreements, you may use the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS).
- Alberta Residential Landlord Association (located in Edmonton)
- Calgary Residential Rental Association
For more information on a landlord’s rights and responsibilities, please see the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) Handbook for Landlords and Tenants.
How we can help
The Utilities Consumer Advocate’s mediation officers can share advice on comparing utility rates, as well as provide information on utility issues and help settle disputes with your provider. Contact us toll-free at 310-4822, email at email@example.com, or visit the Contact a Mediation Officer page for more information.