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KneebTWB

Billing for a Year's Back-log of Utilities

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A friend of mine recently encountered some difficulties with a housemate regarding utilities:

 

The two of them entered into a verbal agreement upon deciding to live together, and my friend is not on the lease that her housemate signed.  Rent was decided to be split evenly, and utilities as well.  Upon receipt of the utility bill, which was addressed to the housemate, she was supposed to inform my friend of the amount that she owed in that month's utilities.  My friend requested, month after month, the amount that was required from her.  The housemate always responded "Oh, yes, I've got to get that for you..." but never provided any bill or asked for any sum in payment for my friend's portion of the utilities.  My friend pays bills in a timely fashion, and spends carefully.  Rent was always paid on-time.  Without a bill, however, nor even a rough estimate of an amount owed, she was not able to set aside money in order to keep a running "utilities fund," for when the housemate did bill her.  My friend has recently decided to move out, and the housemate has decided to bill her for half of all past utilities, which my friend can no longer afford because it has accumulated to a high value.

 

Is this billing practice legal?  It amounts, in my eyes, to the extension of an undocumented, unwanted, and unavoidable line of credit, on which the housemate is now trying to collect.  It seems to me that there must be some legal precedent against this, but I cannot seem to find an appropriate law.  Everything seems to either have to deal with disputes between debtors and creditors, or with disputes of the amount shown on a bill that was provided in a timely manner.  Nothing seems to mention billing neglect that I can find...

 

I, personally, don't think that my friend is in the wrong in withholding payment.  The agreement was originally that bills would be provided in a timely manner.  These were the responsibility of the housemate to provide.  My friend made good-faith efforts, month after month, to obtain a value that she could pay, when she could afford the payment.  As no bill was ever provided, that money that would have been used to pay, had a bill been provided, was, instead, spent.  My friend's income and assets preclude her from paying off the entire debt, now, especially because she has fewer work-hours, currently.

 

This seems like it would fall under the realm of a deceptive business practice, but I am not sure...

 

Utility bills for the last two months and for this month have been provided to my friend, and she has agreed to pay those, but is refusing to pay the enormous back-log of bills that were never provided to her.

 

Either way, my friend is not on a lease, nor official bills of any kind, so the housemate doesn't seem to have a leg to stand on, should she decide to take legal action.

 

I look forward to your insight

Edited by FindLaw_Kevin
This post has been edited to remove personal or identifying information. - Moderator

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Yes, it's legal (albeit annoying).  You admit that your friend agreed to pay half of the utilities, and your friend certainly knew that utility charges were being incurred.  It's certainly not unreasonable to insist on copies of all of the bills or at least copies of the checks used to pay the bills so that your friend can verify the amounts.

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The housemate was playing a little game, believe me its not uncommon.  It goes like this....reap some intangible benefit of not billing someone for something and leading them to believe that they are not going to be billed, and then after collecting said intangible benefits (whatever that might be, favor or what not), trying to collect on the bill at a later time.   Legally speaking, there is nothing in writing, your friend should go his/her way and let it be a lesson learned for the person who failed to inform her of the amounts owed as they became due.   Maybe your friend can pay it off in very small payments that won't burden her at all, since she now has to pay for her current bills as well.   Either way it was the housemates responsibility to provide what was owed in a timely manner if thats what the verbal agreement was. 

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In at least most states the agreement to provide the bills in a timely manner would be construed simply as a timing provision — that is, your friend is not obligated to pay until the bills have been provided. The failure to provide the bills timely would not relieve your friend of the obligation to pay altogether. Your friend knew the utilities were being used and that she owed a share of the bill for them. She ought to have set aside some money to pay them knowing the bills would eventually be presented and have to be paid. She certainly may insist on seeing the bills so she has proof of what her share of the bills are. But once she has that, I think she'll find she has the responsiblity to pay as she agreed to do. 

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Note, in most intances, a verbal agreement is just as binding as a written agreement. The big problem usually encountered when asserting a claim under a verbal agreement is proving that said verbal agreement existed and proving the terms. Here the friend received a benefit for which she agreed to pay. However, niether party was particularly diligent in the handling of this agreement -- one party failing to bill and one party failing to budget for a liability of which she was aware. As between two roommates, this isn't going to rise to an issue of unfair business practices, debt collection laws, etc. Simple contract dispute. Friend can try to dodge the liability all she wants, and the hosuemate is free to pursue in court (small claims perhaps, but we don't know the dollar amount here).  Firend can also offer a smaller sum to settle. I suppose friend could even stand before a judge a deny the existence of the agreement (not recommending perjuy). Doesn't make friend a very good person, but I'm sure if she tries hard enough she can rationalize bailing on her obligations just as you have suggested in your inquiry.

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