Having a tenants gas, electric, or water service get disconnected is a serious situation that must be addressed by a landlord quickly, but fairly. A tenant that has let a utility bill lapse to the point of disconnect is probably experiencing a severe financial hardship. If they have not let their rent lapse yet, chances are that is going to be happening sooner than you would think.
In addition, not having a utility turned on leads to the tenant doing whatever they have to to get by. For instance, a tenant without electric will be using gas that much more - in addition to cooking, they may be using it for light, or even for heat if you have an electric furnace. A tenant without gas will be using their electric for all their cooking needs, including open hot plates, and possibly other unsafe cooking devices. In addition, they may overload outlets with electric space heaters. A tenant without water may not be taking care of their own hygiene needs as often as necessary. In addition, in some areas (Buffalo and Erie County specifically), a property can be foreclosed on if there is a large outstanding water bill for too long!
There are some things you can look for to ensure that utilities are on.
Most utility companies will leave several notices and door hangers at the meter or on the door stating the service may be disconnected, or that the service has been disconnected. If you see a door hanger from a utility company, you should check the status of the utility!
On a water meter, you may find a lock in place at the meter if the utility is turned off. However, many areas will simply turn the water off at the curb.
On a gas meter, you’ll want to ensure that the gate is open, allowing gas to flow through. Many utility companies also put a tag on the meter with the date it was installed, serviced, etc.
The picture to the left shows an open gate - one that parallel with the piping. A closed gate would run perpendicular to the gate, and would probably be locked by the utility company.
Electric meters are generally tagged to prevent entry, with the colors of the tags meaning different things. For instance, in the Buffalo / Erie County area, a grey tag means that service is active. A yellow tag means that service is not active.
On an older style electric meter with the dials, you may notice the dial spinning, which inducates the service is active and being used. However, fi the electric main is turned off inside, this dial should not be spinning.
Dealing with a tenant who has had a utility turned off can be a challenge. In your lease, you should outline the requirement of what utilities the tenant is responsible for. In addition to spelling out what the tenant is responsible for, you should also have a clause stating that the utilities must be active for the duration of the lease, and that their bills be paid in timely fashion. If a tenant is failing to keep utilities active, you would then have the grounds for an eviction. It may seem cruel to consider evicting someone when they are at such a rough spot in their life, but the damage they may cause to your rental as a result of the misuse of other utilities should be enough to convince you it is time for them to move on.