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I recently signed a lease to rent a house for 1 year and in the lease there is a section that assigns who will pay for the utilities, either my landlord or I. This house has an oil heating system and as such, oil needs to be ordered for the winter. However, in the lease in the utilities section next to the Oil row it says N/A, implying that there is no oil heating in the unit so no one has to pay for it. Obviously this was a mistake but regardless we both signed the lease, my question is: who is responsible to pay for this utility, me or my landlord?

EDIT: I have brought this up to my landlord and he claims that it is still my responsibility. Yes, it does work. I had a service man come yesterday to check it an we got it running, there is just not enough oil to keep it on for longer than a few minutes. There is no other mention of the heating system or oil in the lease. This is in the United States.

  • Have you asked your landlord about this? Are you certain that the house's oil heating system is working? Does the lease say anything anywhere else about whether heat is included in the rent? What jurisdiction? – phoog Oct 27 '16 at 15:47
  • @phoog see my edits – celeriko Oct 27 '16 at 16:07
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    The lease presumably presents the list of utilities with something like "any services not specified here are the responsibility of the tenant," in which case you're probably responsible for the oil. "United States" is not a very specific indication of your jurisdiction, as landlord-tenant relations are generally controlled by state law; many localities, especially larger cities, also have relevant laws. For legal advice, though, you should talk to a lawyer. If cost is an issue, there may be a state or local government tenants' hotline. Some nonprofit organizations offer similar help. – phoog Oct 27 '16 at 16:36
  • @phoog thank you for your input, sorry about the vagueness but I really am not comfortable identifying myself in any more of a specific way (call me paranoid), but again thank you, I will look into any hotlines specific to my state/city – celeriko Oct 27 '16 at 17:29
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Landlord-tenant laws are state-specific, and given the number of states it's impractical to scan all of the laws, but based on a reading of a handful of such laws I doubt that there is any law requiring landlords to pay the oil for a rented house. (The matter would be different if there was a multi-unit building with no individual control over temperature, thus pooled fuel usage).

It's not clear to me what you assumed the agreement means, where it says "N/A". Perhaps you believed at the time that the place had a different heating system, and you relied on that assumption. In that case, you might be able to go to court and have the contract voided, and you could pick another place to live. If the "options" are specified so that some things are assigned to tenant, some to landlord, and some are N/A, that would especially lead to the reasonable belief that there was no oil heat in the house. But if the only indications were "landlord" versus "n/a", then you could interpret "n/a" as meaning "not the responsibility of the landlord". Analogously, if the agreement only lists "tenant" and "n/a" then a reasonable interpretation would be that this means "the tenant pays" versus "the tenant does not pay". This reasoning would also have to survive the alternative interpretation that the tenant pays for everything, except that n/a means "there isn't one of these". In other words, the meaning of the term might be determinable from the overall context of what's in the agreement.

Since the house does not come with a full tank (as with car rentals), the question of what to do with the residual oil at the end of the lease should also be specified. Unlike gas or electric, you're not just paying for actual consumption, you're paying for potential consumption, and you would have an interest in the remaining half-tank at the end of the lease. You could just walk away from that investment (pumping it out and taking it with you could be illegal, since the stuff is kind of a contaminant), or you could have an agreement where the landlord buys the oil back from you, but that should be specified in the agreement (and I assume it isn't). This kind of consideration could support a claim that you reasonably believed that there was no oil system (if there were, there would be some term relating to your interest in the residual oil), or even a belief that the landlord would pay the cost of the oil (since he ultimately gets the remaining oil at the end of the lease). You attorney (hint) should advise you how to approach this.

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  • thank you for this very detailed answer! I should have been clearer, the section about utilities is essentially a table: the different utilities are on rows and there are two columns, one for me one for landlord, with a checkbox in either column for whose responsibility. For the Oil row, there is N/A instead of the checkboxes. – celeriko Oct 27 '16 at 17:28
  • At minimum, I don't see any reading that would obligate the landlord to pay for the oil. Similarly, the tenant also might not be obligated to pay - but they might want to anyway, since if there is no heat it is the tenant who freezes. – Nate Eldredge Oct 27 '16 at 17:47

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