Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oregon
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IMPORTANT: This is an excerpt from the 2016 Landlord-Tenant Law in Oregon booklet. This booklet and all Resources referred to below are available on this website. This information is for general educational use only. It is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. If you have a specific legal question, you should contact an attorney. The information included here is accurate as of March 2016. Please remember that the law is always changing through the actions of the courts, the legislature, and agencies.
TIME LIMIT WARNING Under state and federal laws there are time limits for taking action to enforce your rights. Most lawsuits related to the rental agreement and the Oregon Residential Landlord and Tenant Act must be filed (started in court) within one year of the incident. There may be other — shorter — time limits that apply in other cases. Ask a lawyer about the time limits that could apply in your situation.
Questions & Answers
Can a landlord charge me utility or service fees?
If a landlord is being billed directly for utility services to your rental unit or to a common area, the landlord can charge you for these services, if provided for in the written rental agreement. Examples of utilities or services are electricity, natural or liquid propane gas, water, heat, air conditioning, cable television, sewer service, and garbage collection. The landlord cannot charge you more for the utility than the landlord was billed by the provider. However, for video subscription services, such as cable TV, satellite TV, or internet service, a landlord can charge up to 10% over the landlord’s cost for these services, as long as the total cost is not more than the tenant would have to pay if the tenant got the service directly.
If the rental agreement does not outline how the amount charged to the tenant for utilities was figured out, the tenant can get a copy of the bill from the landlord before paying the charge. If your landlord fails to follow the requirements explained in this paragraph, you may sue your landlord and ask for damages in the amount of twice the amount you were wrongfully charged or one month’s rent, whichever is more. ORS 90.315(4). See the Time Limit Warning above.
A tenant who fails to pay a utility or service charge cannot be evicted with a ‘nonpayment of rent’ notice. A tenant who receives a 72-hour or 144-hour notice for nonpayment of rent can keep from being evicted by paying only the rent and not the utility charge during the notice period. (A landlord cannot deduct the utility fee from this rent payment and claim that rent is owing). Tenants who haven’t paid the utility charge can be evicted on a 30-day ‘for-cause’ notice, even if all rent has been paid. ORS 90.315. For more information, see “For-Cause” in the question ‘What kinds of termination notices can a landlord give me?’ in the resource ‘Eviction Notices’.
What can I do about utility bills that I don’t owe?
Before you move in, if you can’t get utility service because a former tenant or the owner owes money to the utility provider, you can:
- pay the bill and deduct it from your rent;
- reach an agreement with the landlord as to how the bill will be paid and get the agreement in writing; or
- immediately end the tenancy by telling the landlord what happened and explaining that you will not keep the unit.
If you immediately end the tenancy, the landlord has 4 days to return prepaid rent and your refundable security deposit. If the rental agreement is terminated and the landlord fails to return money owed to you, you are entitled to twice the amount wrongfully withheld. ORS 90.315(5). See the Time Limit Warning above.
After you move in, if you can’t get service because a former tenant or the owner owes money to the utility provider, or if your utilities are shut off because the landlord was supposed to pay the utility bill and didn’t pay, you can:
- pay the bill and deduct it from your rent; or
- give the landlord a 72-hour written or verbal notice and, if utility service is not turned back on within the 72 hours, move out.
If the utility service is not restored and you move, the landlord is required to return prepaid rent and refundable security deposits within 4 days. If the rental agreement is terminated, you can also sue the landlord for compensation for the actual damage that you suffered as a result of not having utilities and, if the landlord fails to return money owed to you, you are entitled to twice the amount wrongfully withheld. ORS 90.315(6). See the Time Limit Warning above. You can also go to court to ask for an order to require the landlord to turn the utilities back on if the landlord had agreed to pay the bill and did not pay. See the resources Getting the Landlord to Make Repairs and Getting Repairs Made.
In either case, YOU SHOULD NOT WITHHOLD RENT UNLESS ADVISED TO DO SO BY A LAWYER WHO HAS AGREED TO REPRESENT YOU IN COURT! See the Resource Directory ‘Finding Legal Help’.
If your landlord has caused or attempted to deny you an “essential service,” which can include services such as heat and water, you may have additional or different rights. See the resource Getting the Landlord to Make Repairs.