Shared Water Meter Among Different Tenants
Q: I live in a multi-unit apartment building in Ohio. My lease makes me responsible for the water bill, but the landlord has the placed water metered so that the bill is split evenly between all of the tenants in the complex rather than only paying for what each unit uses. I don't use that much water, and every time I see another tenant washing his car and leaving the hose on it burns me up. Is there anything I can do?
A: There is no state wide law requiring the landlord to have each unit at an apartment building or complex individually metered. However, your local city ordinances may control this question. You should call your local city or county building inspector and ask these questions. If the local codes do require that the meters be individually installed, then the failure to do this is a violation of the lease agreement since case law in Ohio incorporates all building and safety codes into the lease agreement. That means you can treat the failure to have individual meters the way you would a defect at the rental premises. That subject is treated at http://www.ohiolandlordtenant.com/faq1.html.
If the local codes say nothing about this, then it still may be a breach of the lease. Here is how. Your interpretation of the lease agreement is that you are required to pay for water, but only the water you use. The landlord's interpretation is that you have to pay an equal share of what everyone uses. Now we come to an ambiguity in the lease agreement.
When there is an ambiguity in the lease agreement, the first thing that a court will do is look at each side's interpretation of the ambiguous clause and decide whether that interpretation is reasonable. In this case, you could argue that while your interpretation is certainly reasonable (since having individually metered apartments is very common), the landlord's interpretation is unreasonable since the lease says you will pay for your water bill, not a portion of your neighbors. Further, since you are paying a portion of the collective bill, that presumably makes you responsible for water the landlord uses to water the landscaping, and interpreting a clause which says you will pay for your water to mean that you will pay for the landlord's water too isn't reasonable.
The next thing that the Court will do if it finds that both sides have a reasonable interpretation of the ambiguous clause is it will ask who wrote the lease. In the context of landlord tenant matters, the lease is usually supplied by the landlord to the tenant. This means that the landlord will be the "drafter" of the lease. When a lease has an ambiguous provision, it will be construed against the drafter of the lease and in favor of the person who signed but did not write up the lease. The reasoning here is that the drafter of the lease was in the best position to write clearly, and his/her failure to do so must not be held against the person who merely signed it.
Again, if there is a breach of the lease agreement, you can treat it as a landlord's failure to fix things, with such questions being answered at this FAQ.
There is no guarantee as to how this one will come out, but that is how a court will analyze the problem in Ohio.
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Disclaimer: The information provided on ohiolandlordtenant.com is not intended to be legal advice, but general information related to legal issues commonly encountered. The law in your state may be different from that discussed here. The facts in your case may be different too.
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