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Tenants Wasting Water? Try These Tactics

Money June 1, 2018
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Lindsay Cutler

If you own a property with multiple units, you’ve probably arrived at your own special formula for divvying up utilities between yourself and your tenants. Many landlords prefer to cover the cost of water and charge tenants a little more for rent, while other owners refuse to take the gamble on water-hogs and leave all the responsibility to their tenants. There’s no right or wrong answer (unless you’re trying to change the preexisting rules of the lease; don’t do that!) Here are a few ways to nudge your tenants in a more conservation-friendly direction.

Track their water usage with Flo

Pro tip: Tenants will never say no to upgrades if you frame it as a benefit for them. If tenants are paying the water bill, tell them you’d like to install a leak detection system like Flo, which could save them hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their water utility bills each year. On the other hand, if you’re footing the bill and there’s more financial incentive for you personally, reframe it as a protective measure against leaks and water damage in their home.

Check in with them

Tenants never like to feel like Big Brother is watching. If their water bills show extreme neglect or waste on their part, reach out to them. Show them the water bill from a previous cycle and their most recent bill to make the change clear. If a tenant isn’t paying for their own water, they’re probably not thinking about it. There’s a good chance once they realize their landlord is watching their water consumption, they won’t leave the faucets running quite so often.

Install low-flow fixtures

Tenants will groan about the (perceived) reduction in water pressure, but ultimately you’re conserving water and saving money. You’ll notice a big change in water usage when you swap out the toilets, shower heads and faucets for WaterSense models.

Install dishwashers

It might seem like a lavish expense to put a dishwasher in every apartment, but look at the numbers. Hand-washing a load of dishes can use up to 27 gallons of water, while newer dishwashers can clean a full load of dishes in as little as three gallons. Dishwashers also disinfect better because they use hotter water than your hands could handle. Dishwashers may seem like electricity hogs, but when you factor in water, heat and energy savings, it’s the green way to go.

Make water the tenant’s responsibility

So you’ve had it with tenants driving up your water bill. Enough is enough. For all incoming tenants, make sure the lease states that the water utility is the tenant’s responsibility. Since most multi-family buildings don’t have separate water meters for each unit, many landlords use Ratio Utility Billing System, or RUBS. It’s a billing system that calculates a resident’s water bill based on a few factors, such as the number of occupants in a unit, or square footage. However, RUBS is not perfect and will never be exact as submetering for individual apartments.  (Thankfully, Flo can help landlords keep tabs on their tenants water usage.)

However, making tenants responsible for water is only legal with new tenants on a new lease, not with established tenants in a rent-stabilized building whom have never paid for water before.

It’s also worth noting there’s a reason why landlords usually pay for water, sewer and trash on their own. It’s partly for the convenience — calculating RUBS for each unit is a waste of time when you can just bake it into the monthly rent. What’s more pressing is the issue of liability; even if the trash or water bill is in a tenant’s name, ultimate responsibility falls to the landlord if a tenant is delinquent on their bills and decides to skip town.

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