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My Landlord Has Not Paid Their Water Bill

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

Read this if you live in a manufactured housing community AND are facing water shut-off because the park owner has not paid their water bill.

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Should I read this?

Yes, if you

  • live in a manufactured housing community

AND

  • are facing water shut-off because the park owner has not paid their water bill

This publication will help you file papers and appear for court faster and more easily.

*If you need legal advice, see the contact info at the end of this publication.

Do I live in a manufactured housing community?

If you own your home and rent the lot it sits on and your neighbors are in the same situation, you probably live in a manufactured housing community and are protected by the Washington Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord Tenant Act (RCW 59.20).

How do I know if my landlord has not paid the water bill?

If you have gotten any official correspondence from the utility company threatening shut-off now or in the future, it may indicate it is because your landlord has not paid their utility bill.

How do I know if water is my landlord's responsibility?

Your lease agreement or Park Rules may state that payment of water utility is the landlord's responsibility.  If you do not have a lease agreement, or your lease does not say who is responsible for the water utility, there may be an established course of conduct showing the water utility is your landlord's responsibility.

What is a "course of conduct" showing water is my landlord's responsibility?

Have you ever been billed by your landlord or your local utility for water usage?  Has your landlord ever told you or given you written notice water utilities are your responsibility?  If the answer to both questions is no, a court probably would find there is a "course of conduct" showing payment of the water utility is your landlord's responsibility.

Can the landlord force me to start paying my own utility bill?

A landlord who agreed to pay for some or all utilities when you moved into the park may be able to force you to start paying for any or all utilities at the end of a lease term. You should read very carefully any new rental agreement the landlord offers. The new agreement may make you responsible for water, sewer, garbage, or other utilities. You can try to negotiate the new rental agreement with the landlord to avoid these new utility charges. However, if the landlord wants to, s/he can force you to pay for utilities even if you do not want to or do not agree to pay. If you refuse to or do not pay the new utility charges, the landlord may have grounds to evict you. Get legal advice before refusing to pay for utilities after the landlord asks you to start paying for them.

What can I do to keep my water from being shut off?

If a manufactured housing community receives water utility service through a single utility account (your landlord), the utility shall provide water services to an affected tenant on the same terms and conditions as other residential utility customers, without you having to pay delinquent amounts for services billed directly to the landlord.  If a landlord does not pay for water services, any tenant who requests the services be put in his/her name may deduct from the rent all reasonable charges the tenant paid the city or town for such services.  RCW 35.21.217.

How do I make sure I am following the rules?

You can only deduct the utility from your rent once you have paid your utility bill to the water utility.  Example: The utility says you owe $180 for a two-month period. You must pay the utility and then deduct that amount from your next rent payment.   Every time you make a utility payment, you must give your landlord written notice and let them know of your intent to pay reduced rent.

I put my water in my name and deducted the cost from my rent. Will the landlord retaliate?

The landlord may not evict you, end or refuse to renew your rental agreement, increase rent or other tenant obligations, decrease services, or change park rules in response to any of the following you have done in good faith:

  • filing a complaint about a landlord's violation of the law
  • asking the landlord to follow any law
  • filing a lawsuit against the landlord
  • participating in any homeowner's group

RCW 59.20.070(4).

If the landlord ends the rental agreement, increases your obligations, or decreases services within 120 days after you do any of these things, the law presumes the landlord is retaliating against you. You may use the landlord's presumed retaliation as a defense if the landlord tries to evict you. If the landlord has tried to evict you within 120 days of you doing one of the above, the landlord must prove s/he had legitimate reason other than retaliation for trying to evict you. RCW 50.20.075.

If the landlord's action happened more than 120 days after you took the protected action, you must prove the landlord acted in retaliation against you. This can be very hard without a witness or documents supporting your retaliation claim.

*The same rule applies if you complain after the landlord proposes a rent increase. If the landlord announces a proposed rent increase and then within 120 days after the announcement, you file a suit or make a complaint, the law presumes you did not act in good faith.

Protect yourself. Deliver to the landlord a written notice or letter regarding your intent to put your water into your own name and deduct your monthly utility cost from your rent, even if the landlord already knows about your intent to do so.  The notice/letter must state

  • your address
  • your name,
  • your intended actions

(See sample letter.) 

You must have the notice/letter personally delivered to the landlord, mailed to the address stated in the rental agreement, or taped, pinned, or otherwise posted at the landlord's home and mailed.  Keep a copy of all notices to and from the landlord.

What if I cannot put the water utility in my name?  

Contact any of the agencies below to talk to a lawyer.

What if I am confused or my landlord is threatening action if I follow this process?  

Contact any of the entities listed below to talk to a lawyer.

Where can I go for more help?

  • Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral (CLEAR), 1-888-201-1014 (Monday-Friday 9:15 – 12:15 p.m.) 
    CLEAR is a toll-free hotline for qualified low-income people staffed by trained paralegals and lawyers who can answer legal questions and provide appropriate referrals.

  • If you live in Cowlitz County:  Northwest Justice Project, 1338 Commerce, Suite 210, Longview, WA 98632, 360-425-1537 (Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and closed for lunch between noon – 1:00 p.m.)

  • Attorney General's Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program - 1-866-924-6458 http://www.atg.wa.gov/manufactured-housing-dispute-resolution-program  

 

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of October 2016.
© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)

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Last Review and Update: Mar 28, 2018
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