Summary: Florida law provides that if the utility bill is not in the landlord’s name, a utility provider may not seek payment from the landlord or refuse new service to the property.
A utility company or even a municipality providing water a sewer services may not refuse service or discontinue service to either the owner or a prospective tenant due to an unpaid utility bill where service was in the name of a prior tenant. Florida Statutes § 180.135 provides
Utility Services; refusal or discontinuance of services for nonpayment of service charges by former occupant of rental unit prohibited; unpaid service charges of former occupant not to be basis for lien against rental property, exception
(1)(a) any other provision of the law to the contrary notwithstanding. No municipality may refuse services or discontinue utility, water, or sewer service to the owner of any rental unit or to a tenant or prospective tenant of such rental unit for nonpayment of service charges incurred by a former occupant of the rental unit; any such unpaid service charges incurred by a former occupant will not be the basis for any lien against the rental property or legal action against the present tenant or owner to recover such charges except to the extent that the present tenant or owner has benefited directly from the service provided to the former occupant.
(b) This section applies only if the former occupant of the rental unit contracted for such services with the municipality or if the municipality provided services with knowledge of the former occupant’s name and period the occupant was provided the services.
(4) In any case where a (residential) tenant does not make a payment for service charges to a municipality for the provision of utility, water, or sewer services, the landlord may thereupon commence eviction proceedings.
The statute applies if the utilities were in the name of the former tenant. If the landlord had provided the deposit for the utility account, the statute would still apply of the municipality was provided the name of the former tenant and informed of the time period of the tenancy. In the case of Berke v. City of Miami Beach, 568 So.2d 108 (Fla. 3rd DCS 1990) the City of Miami Beach file a lien against the rental property for the unpaid utility bills of the former tenants. The court of appeal ruled that the city could not impose a lien against the rental property. The fact that the tenants received utilities was deemed not to be a benefit to the landlord. The court stated that the city should have protected itself by requiring the landlord to co-sign for the utility account.
In another case, the water pipe broke while the landlord was in possession of the rental property resulting in a huge water bill which he did not pay. The landlord then rented the property to a tenant, who kept his water bill current. The city kept billing the landlord for the previous usage and when the landlord still did not pay this bill, the city cut off the water without any notice to the tenant. The court ruled that this violated due process Davis v. Weir 497 F.2d 139 (5th Cir. 1974). Another court found that requiring a tenant to pay a former tenant’s water bill violated the equal protection clause Kroger v. Guarino, 412 F. Supp 1375 (E.D. Pa 1976) aff’d 549 F.2d 795 (3rd Cir. 1977). The court rejected these arguments in a case where the utilities were in the name of a husband, who left his wife and with an unpaid utility bill. The utility refused to let her open an account in her own name until the prior bill was paid. The court rejected her due process argument because she had enjoyed the benefit of the utilities. . The court rejected these arguments in a case where the utilities were in the name of a husband, who left his wife and with an unpaid utility bill. The utility refused to let her open an account in her own name until the prior bill was paid. The court rejected her due process argument because she had enjoyed the benefit of the utilities. Haynsworth v. South Carolina Elec. & Gas Co. 488 F. Supp 565 (D.S.C. 1979).