During the tenancy period, a tenant is usually responsible for paying council tax and utility bills. A tenancy agreement will usually state that a tenant is responsible for paying council tax and utility bills when renting, and many disputes arise when a tenant fails to do so.
In such cases, an adjudicator may be presented with a number of unpaid bills that correspond to the length of the tenancy. Nonetheless – and importantly – if the bills are in the name of the tenant, an adjudicator will usually determine that the landlord has not suffered a loss and will not make an award.
This is because the contract is between the utility provider and the tenant, and any loss or liability is thus not the landlord’s responsibility (and would instead be pursued by the utility company against the tenant directly). Alternatively, if a landlord presents unpaid utility bills when renting in the landlord’s name (or at the property’s address), an adjudicator may determine that the landlord is entitled to make a claim against the deposit.
This is because the liability (as stated on the bill) is in the name of the landlords and letting agents for the property, and thus the landlord would suffer a loss. Commonly, this occurs with council tax liability, where a council may not have been updated as to the tenant’s occupation of a property, and the landlord will retain liability for the council tax at the address. A liability in the name of the landlord (or the name of a property) can be recovered against the deposit; however, the standard burden of proof principles will apply.
Postal Services Act 2000
While a landlord may be concerned about unpaid utilities, a landlord and agent cannot open the tenant’s mail without permission, and doing so may constitute a criminal offence under the Postal Services Act 2000. In any case, a landlord should keep in mind that a utility contract is typically between a tenant and a utility provider, and as such, it is not the landlord’s responsibility (or liability) – such correspondence, therefore, should be forwarded to the tenant at their forwarding address, unopened.
However, such a liability would usually arise if the property was left vacant – and a tenant cannot be held doubly liable for council tax on a property where a landlord or letting agent has found a new tenant to offset the impact of a breach of the fixed term. However, if the property is a property of multiple occupations or if a landlord can claim an exemption due to an unoccupied/substantially unfurnished property, the circumstances may be different. In these cases, it may be prudent for a landlord or letting agent to seek legal counsel.
Contact Looksy Inventories Today
Contact Looksy Inventories today to find out more about how an inventory can prevent disputes at the end of a tenancy, and ensure your rental property is safe and secure. Utility bills when renting can even be included, ensuring everyone knows who is responsible.