Is the arbitrary raising of utilities legal without any notice?

UPDATED: Feb 13, 2012

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Is the arbitrary raising of utilities legal without any notice?

I’m on a month-to-month rental basis with my landlord who also happens to be a longtime personal acquaintance. Along with the monthly rent as outlined in a rental agreement, we have an oral contract (documented in writing) as to my paying 2/3rds of the utilities. Without any notice and after several months of living here she arbitrarily determined that I should be paying 3/4ths of all utilities, retroactively. Is this considered raising the rent and/or am I protected under any landlord/tenant or contractual laws against her arbitrarily raising my portion of the utilities without due course?

Asked on February 13, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If there is a written agreement, then even if you are month to month tenant, the landlord may not unilaterally alter the terms and conditions--especially not retroactively.

However, that may be  of little value to you: if you truly are on a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord could give you a month's notice that she is terminating the tenancy unless you agree to new terms. Thus, while the landlord cannot technically change the lease terms, since a lease only provides protection until it expires or is terminated--and a month to month tenancy may be terminated on one month's notice--at most, the agreement would seem to only protect you from retroactive increases and for one month into the future (the month of the notice period). After that, the landlord could terminate the tenancy unless you agree to the new terms.

The exception would be if the agreement only allows you to terminate on a month's notice, but prevents the landlord from so terminating. If that is the case, the lease's terms regarding utilities are enforceable until such time as the landlord can terminate the lease.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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