Sub-metering and Utility Billing Services
A recent AAMHO publication carried a report of a mobile home parks hearing officer case involving charges for park provided utility services. This had sparked interest on the part of tenants around the state in temporary suspension of utility services and charges.
Unfortunately the AAMHO publication failed to reveal that a rehearing of the case has been granted. The final decision will probably be a lot different than the version printed by AAMHO. But the decision correctly identified one are in which parks frequently make errors in charging for utilities.
Section 33-1413.01 of the mobile home parks landlord tenant act permits a park to charge separately for utility service it provided to tenants. Some parks purchase water, gas and/or electricity from the local utility provider through a master meter. It may redistribute the utility through its own park owned distribution network to each rental space. If it does so, it may charge separately for the utility service provided it installs separate meters at each space, takes monthly readings and gives tenants a bill each month formatted like the providing utility company's bills. The statue also permits parks to separately charge for sewer and trash removal service each month. Since these are non-metered utilities, there is no need to install meters. But monthly bills must be provided using the providing utility's format. The statute states that if the park separately charges for utility service, its charges shall not exceed the prevailing single family residential rate of the providing utility company. That means that if you as a park operator separately charge for one or more utility services, you cannot charge more than the local utility company would charge a single family customer for that service. To figure out what those limitations are, you need to obtain a copy of the single family residential rate schedule from the utility provider.
Many utility companies allow single family residential customers to suspend utility services for temporary periods of time and to avoid paying for them. Typically they will require some sort of advance notice from the customer . Some require a suspension fee and/or a service restoration fee; others do not. This is quite common for trash removal service but is not limited to that. If a utility company would permit a single family residential customer to temporarily suspend service and payment but a park landlord does not, the effect is that a tenant would be paying for the utility while a single residential customer would not. Since the single family residential rate for any would exceed that rate and would violate the restrictions in section 33-1413.01 of the mobile home parks act. The upshot is that where utility providers allow temporary suspension of service and charges, parks charging tenants must likewise do so. They can require compliance with the same notice and disconnect/restoration fees as the utility company imposes on single family residential customers, but they must permit temporary suspension once those requirements are met. That is the basis of the hearing officer decision reported by AAMHO.
The decision contained errors by the judge which led to a rehearing being granted. These errors involved the imposition of a civil penalty against a park and a finding that restitution cannot be ordered. It is expected these errors will be corrected in a revised decision.
If your park separately charges for utilities, make sure you have current single family residential rate schedules from the providing utility. Be sure you carefully review them to see if the utility company allows its customers to temporarily suspend service. If it does, be prepared to duplicate the utility company's policy should tenants request you do so.
*Article approved by Manufactured Housing Communities of Arizona