Utilities After a Foreclosure

Who Pays Utilities After the Foreclosure

If your old owner paid for your utilities, then the new owner must pay for the same utilities as the old owner. If a bank is the new owner, it has to follow the same rule. In Massachusetts, most landlords pay for most of their tenants’ utilities. Usually tenants only pay utilities if they have agreed in writing to do so.26

You only have to pay utilities if:

  1. Water – If your apartment has a separate water meter, you agreed in writing to pay for the water, and the owners filed a certificate complying with the water law.27
  2. Heat and hot water – You and the old owner agreed in writing that you would pay them.28
  3. Electricity and gas – Your unit has a separate meter and you agreed in writing that you would pay, or, if the electricity or gas does not provide heat, you made a verbal agreement to pay.

For more information about utilities and who should pay for them, see Chapter 6: Utilities.

2. What to Do if the Utilities are Shut Off

If a utility the old owner used to pay gets shut off, or the utility company sends you a notice that they may shut-off service:

  • Notify the new owner right away.
  • Tell the new owner she must pay the bill and restore service or stop the shut-off.
  • Contact the utility company. Ask them to restore the service, or not shut it off. Tell them your building was foreclosed. Give them the new owner’s name. Most utility companies will not shut off services if you are in a foreclosed building.
  • If the utility company does not help you, call the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE) hotline. DTE will contact the utility company if they have not followed the law.29
    • Outside Boston: 800-392-6006
    • Boston area: 617-305-3531
  • You can also ask the court to order the new owner to pay the utility bills.

To learn more about preventing utility shut-offs, see Chapter 6: Utilities.

Always take photos and keep notes about the problems and repairs needed.

Endnotes

25 . 105 C.M.R. §§410.180, 410.190, 410.200, 410.201, 410.355. If no such written agreement exists, the landlord is legally responsible for the cost of heat and hot water even if the tenant pays for them. Young v. Patukonis, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 907 (1987). See also 105 C.M.R. §410.354 (Property owner must pay for electric and gas bills unless there are separate meters and a written agreement saying tenant must pay.).

26 . 105 C.M.R. §§410.180, 410.190, 410.200, 410.201, 410.355. If no such written agreement exists, the landlord is legally responsible for the cost of heat and hot water even if the tenant pays for them. Young v. Patukonis, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 907 (1987). See also 105 C.M.R. §410.354 (Property owner must pay for electric and gas bills unless there are separate meters and a written agreement saying tenant must pay.).

27 . Landlords may bill tenants separately for water if all of the following requirements are :

  • Landlord has installed submeters that measure actual water used in your apartment;
  • Landlord has installed low-flow fixtures;
  • Your tenancy started on or after March 16, 2005
  • Previous tenant was not forced out;
  • There is a written rental agreement that spells out water bill arrangements; and
  • Landlord has filed proper certification.

If the landlord has failed to follow any one of the above requirements, she cannot bill you directly for water.

28 . 105 C.M.R. §§410.180, 410.190, 410.200, 410.201, 410.355. If no such written agreement exists, the landlord is legally responsible for the cost of heat and hot water even if the tenant pays for them. Young v. Patukonis, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 907 (1987). See also 105 C.M.R. §410.354 (Property owner must pay for electric and gas bills unless there are separate meters and a written agreement saying tenant must pay.).

29 . 220 C.M.R. §25.04.

Repairs After Foreclosure

To get repairs made, you can:

  • Notify the owner in writing, and ask her to make the repairs.
  • Ask your Board of Health to do an inspection and give you a Report.
  • After the Board of Health orders the repairs, make the repairs yourself and subtract the cost from your rent.
  • After the Board of Health gives the landlord notice about the problems you can withhold some or all of your rent until repairs are made. Or you can withhold rent after you give the landlord notice. Ask the Court to order the owner to make the repairs. Ask for a Temporary Restraining Order or TRO. The court clerk can give you the form. Or you can use TRO, Form 15.

Make sure you understand your options before you decide what to do.

1. Notify the Owner about the Problems

Notify the owner right away about problems. Notify her by email or mail. Even if you talk to the owner about the problem, put it in writing. You may need proof later. Use: Repair Letter, Form 9.

Your letter or email should:

  • Be dated,
  • List all the problems, and
  • Say you want the owner to fix them.

Important!

Keep a copy of every letter or email you send the owner. Also keep a record of everything you do to try to fix the problem. You can also notify the new owner’s real estate agent, property manager, or lawyer. The owner must repair problems in your unit and the common areas of your building. She must also take care of snow removal.30

To learn more about repairs, see Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made and Booklet 2: Housing Code Checklist.

2. Ask Your Board of Health to Do an Inspection

If your situation is very serious, like no heat in the winter, ask the Board of Health to do an emergency inspection. Give them the new owner’s name, address, and phone number. If the Board of Health says there is a problem or violation of the sanitary code, they give a copy of the Report to the owner and order her to make the repairs by a certain deadline.31 They should also give you a copy of the Report. If they do not, ask for a copy.

Tip

You can find your local Board of Health phone number online or at your town hall.

3. Repair and Deduct or Withhold Rent

If the new owner accepts your rent, but refuses to make repairs ordered by the Board of Health you can either:

  • Make the repairs then subtract the cost from your rent or
  • Withhold rent until the owner makes the repairs.

Follow these steps:

  1. Ask the Board of Health to do an inspection. They should give you and the new owner a copy of the Report that lists the problems that need repair. If they do not give you a copy, ask for one.32
  2. Get the repairs done, and keep receipts.
  3. Subtract the cost of the repairs from the rent,
  4. Send copies of the receipts and your calculations to the owner when the rent is due. You may deduct only a total of four month’s rent in any 12-month period.
    or
  5. Withhold some or all of your rent. Put that money in a separate bank account until the repairs are made.33 This may protect you if the new owner tries to evict you or says you did not pay rent.

Caution!

These options are complicated. If you do not do it correctly, you may get evicted. Before you decide to use these options, see: Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made and Form 12 and Form 13

4. Get a Court Order

You can ask the court to order the owner to make the repairs. Follow these steps:

  1. Ask the Board of Health to do an inspection. They should give you and the new owner a copy of the Report, which lists the problems that need repair. If they do not, give you a copy, ask for one.34
  2. If the owner refuses to make repairs after getting this Report, take a copy of the Report to your local housing or district court. Also take this information with you:
  • The name, address, and phone number for the new owner, or her property manager or real estate agent.
  • If the old owner is fighting to keep your building, you could also include the old owner’s information.
  • Fill out a court form that asks for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The court clerk can give you the form. Or you can use TRO, Form 15.
  • The clerk will ask you to pay a filing fee. If your income is low, you can ask the court to waive the fee. You will have to fill out and file the Indigency Form first.
  • 5. Take Photos and Keep Notes

    Good documentation will help you get the problems fixed or win your case if you have to go to court.

    • Take photos of the problems.
    • Keep notes or make a list of each time you tell the owner about the problems.
    • Keep copies of any letters or emails about the problems you send.
    • Keep the receipts if you have to fix something yourself.
    • The best way to document the problems is to call your local Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department, and ask for an inspection.

    Endnotes

    30 . During the period between the foreclosure auction and the execution of the foreclosure deed, the "mortgagee-in-possession," i.e., the lender that conducted the foreclosure sale, is responsible for repairs. See definition of "owner" in 105 C.M.R. §410.020.

    31 . 105 C.M.R. §410.020.

    32 . G.L. c. 111, §127L. See also 940 C.M.R. §3.17(1)(h).

    33 . G.L. c. 239, §8A.

    34 . G.L. c. 111, §127L. See also 940 C.M.R. §3.17(1)(h).

    Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi
    Created April 2015

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