Who pays for heat when utilities are included in the rent?

Utilities, including heat, are included in my rent. Yesterday, my landlord gave me a copy of the heating bill and said that I had to pay for the heat from now on, because the bill was too expensive. Do I have to pay?

No, you don’t have to pay the bill. The lease agreement that you have with your landlord is a contract, and both of you are bound by the terms of the contract. Just like you could not decide to pay your landlord $50 less a month in rent just because you felt like paying less, your landlord can’t tell you to pay more a month. When your landlord agreed to pay the utilities, he accepted the risk that utility costs might increase. The landlord, in order to get more money, could increase the rent. As noted in Service Alberta’s RTA Handbook:

Landlords cannot require tenants to pay utilities after a tenancy has started if the residential tenancy agreement:
• Contains express wording that the utilities are included in the rent,
• Is silent on who is responsible for utilities, but the landlord has always taken a portion of the rent to pay the utilities.
Landlords and tenants can mutually agree that utilities will no longer be included in the rent.
To recover higher utility costs, landlords must give a legal written notice of a rent increase.

But what if your landlord sends you a bill for the heat anyway? You may want to consider writing your landlord a letter, setting out the reasons why you are not going to pay the utility bill. It is a good idea to have things in writing, just in case you end up in a dispute with your landlord. If you are refusing to pay because a term of the lease states that the utilities are included, then attach a copy of the lease with that term highlighted. You could even attach the RTA Handbook section that we already talked about  to the letter, so that the landlord can then contact Service Alberta for more information.

If the landlord decides to increase the rent to cover the higher than expected utility costs, then the landlord must follow the rules regarding rent increases. You can read our Rent Increases Tipsheet to find out more information.

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