If you rent residential property you most likely ran into a situation where a tenant moved out (or was asked to leave) and did not pay his utility bill.
Many municipalities try to strong arm the landlord into paying the unpaid tenant utility bills on an account opened up in a tenant’s name before they will agree turn on the “juice” for the next tenant.
If this is happening to you, know that a municipality CAN NOT require the owner to pay outstanding tenant utility bills and its threat and refusal to discontinue service for the next tenant is illegal and violates Florida Statute 180.135 and case law.
The law is clear that a utility company or even a municipality providing water a sewer services may not refuse service or discontinue service to either the owner or a prospective tenant due to an unpaid utility bill where service was in the name of a prior tenant.
Florida Statutes §180.135 provides that no municipality may refuse services or discontinue utility, water, or sewer services to the owner of any rental unit or to a tenant or prospective tenant of such rental unit for nonpayment of service charges incurred by a former occupant of the rental unit; any such unpaid service charges incurred by a former occupant will not be the basis for any lien against the rental property or legal action against the present tenant or owner to recover such charges except to the extent that the present tenant or owner has benefited directly from the service provided to the former occupant.
This statute applies only if the former occupant of the rental unit contracted for such services with the municipality or if the municipality provided services with knowledge of the former occupant’s name and period the occupant was provided the services. Even If the landlord had provided the deposit for the utility account, the statute would still apply if the municipality was provided the name of the former tenant and informed of the time period of the tenancy.
It is clear that the Florida Legislature has limited a municipality’s authority to refuse to provide or to discontinue utility services to the owners, tenants or prospective tenants of rental property, based upon the nonpayment for services by a previous tenant. The Florida Statue 180.135, was created in order to eliminate any liability of owners whose tenants default on service payments and to assure utility service to new tenants who move into a rental unit which was formerly occupied by a tenant in default.
This law has been well established in several Florida cases going back decades: Berke v. City of Miami Beach, 568 So.2d 108 (Fla. 3rd DCS 1990) Davis v. Weir 497 F.2d 139 (5th Cir. 1974). Kroger v. Guarino, 412 F. Supp 1375 (E.D. Pa 1976) aff’d 549 F.2d 795 (3rd Cir. 1977).
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