Most people just pay their electric bill each month without ever thinking about it other than a little groaning. But, if you live in an apartment building or other multi-family structure, do you know what's hooked up to each meter? If you're a landlord, do you know if your electrical meters are legal? Here's the law on electrical meters so you can avoid legal trouble.
Every Unit Must Have Its Own Meter
Every unit in a multi-family setting, whether it's side-by-side town homes, a duplex, multi-story apartment complex, or a brownstone that's split by floors, must have an individual electric meter. Unlike a roommate situation, it's not legal to take the total electrical usage for all the tenants and divide it by the number of units.
The only way for a landlord to get around this, for example if they're doing something like adding a basement apartment to their home or don't want to renovate an old building, is to not charge for electricity at all. They can estimate the electrical usage and add it to the rent, but this must be charged as rent and it can't vary based on the actual electric usage.
Common Areas Can't be Tied to a Tenant's Meter
Most apartment buildings use electricity in common areas for things like hallway lighting, lobby air conditioning, and parking lot lights. These common utilities can't be connected to a tenant's electric meter — not even a single lightbulb.
A landlord must have a separate meter for common area electrical needs that is billed to their account and paid out of their general fund.
What Can a Tenant Do If They're Getting Charged for Common Area Electricity?
Having common area electrical fixtures, or electrical fixtures that are actually used by another unit, tied into a tenant's electrical meter is called cross metering. If a tenant suspects cross metering, they may be able to quickly detect it by turning their circuit breaker on and off. They can also request that the local electrical company perform an inspection. If cross metering is found, the landlord will, at minimum, be required to fully reimburse the tenant for the extra electrical usage. Depending on the circumstances, additional fines may be levied or there may even be a criminal fraud investigation.
To learn more about the laws on electrical meters or to discuss legal services pertaining to rentals, contact a local real estate attorney today.