Reposted from the “Ask Consumer Ed” article from the Georgia Attorney General’s consumer protection unit.
Dear Consumer Ed:
Can a utility company charge me for a previous tenant’s utility bills? I am a new tenant in a rental home. The owner passed away last year, and apparently after the medical bills were paid, there was no money left in the estate. I am now being told that I cannot get electricity or water service until these bills are paid. Who is legally responsible – me or the estate that is financially broke at this point?
Consumer Ed says:
While we cannot give legal advice, as a general rule, a tenant in a residential property who has no connection to a previous occupant is not responsible for paying the utility bills attributed to the previous occupant’s use.
Furthermore, if you are renting a house, the utility provider may be prohibited from denying you service because of the previous tenant’s unpaid bills.
For example, Georgia law prohibits a public or private water company from refusing to supply water to a new residential tenant because the prior owner or occupant owes it money.
With regard to electricity, if your power company is regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission, it is prohibited from denying you service on the basis of a previous occupant’s unpaid bill. If your provider is a municipally-owned electric system, you would have to either refer to your city’s code of ordinance or contact your municipal utilities department. Similarly, if your provider is an electric membership corporation (EMC), you would have to contact your local EMC provider to inquire about the rules and regulations that apply to you.
If a utility company insists that you are responsible for the previous occupant’s bills or refuses to give you service until those bills are paid, you may want to ask it to show you in writing where the Public Service Commission or other authority permits it to take this action. The utility companies may simply need to update their billing records to reflect that a new tenant will be occupying the home and start up the utilities under your name.
If you unable to resolve this situation, you may want to consult an attorney about your options.