I've been living at my current residence in Montana from late 2011 to date. Upon moving in and since then my landlord has paid the water bill. I received a delinquency notice today from the city which was taped to my door while I was at work yesterday giving me until tomorrow at noon to pay the bill or risk having my water shut off by the city. My lease (the term of which technically ended on June 7, 2012 and has since been month-to-month) mentions that

Lessee shall be responsible for arranging for and paying for all utility services required on the premises, except that _________________________ shall be provided by Lessor.

but the blank space left for the list of lessor utility obligations is, well, blank. I wrote an epic(-ly nice) head's up text to my landlord but received an immediate reply from my carrier insisting the number I have for her and have used with success relatively recently, doesn't exist. That's where things really went South for me tonight.

I suspect come Friday morning I'll be pretty grumpy if I can't shower before going to works, so I'm going to do what I need to do with the city to get the situation resolved before the showdown tomorrow at high noon.

Easy enough, I'm not going to let the city intimidate me with a delinquency notice in somebody else's name - I'll even shell out some back pay and fees for them so I can scrub up Friday morning, but what I'm planning on doing when the first sneaks up is cutting my rent check less the amount the city wants to keep the water on with a friendly note and/or bill justifying the smaller amount.

The Question

Seems pretty legit to me, but IANAL so I'm wondering what kind of trouble I might be getting myself in to with such a move. I'm not sure it's worth pushing the envelope if she balks about not getting enough rent but on the other hand I'm pretty confident she'll be mortified upon finding out it was let to get to this point in the first place. I believe she's off drinking margaritas somewhere tropical and has a relative handling the clerical doings. She probably has no idea it's delinquent and she's extremely nice, but I'm curious nonetheless. Will this constitute breech of lease, or do I have any legal precedent to take it out of my rent?

Bonus Round

What leverage might I have with the city when it comes to being responsible for delinquency fees and back pay to preserve service considering I haven't received any notices at the address in question until they taped one to my door considerably after-the-fact? Last payment was in early January; they've had many weeks to mail a letter to the address serviced by the utility but apparently such a thing hadn't occurred to them.

  • 1
    See leg.mt.gov/bills/mca_toc/70_24.htm. – phoog Apr 6 '17 at 14:29
  • Downvoter: care to explain how my question might be improved......? – jbowman Apr 6 '17 at 14:36
  • I did not vote, but questions asking for legal advice are off topic, and I suspect that this is the reason for the vote. See law.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic. – phoog Apr 6 '17 at 15:31
  • Thank you. I suppose I should make an edit when I get time. I'm not looking for legal advice per se, more for legal precedent and/or cut-and-dry legislation. I'm pretty familiar with Montana Code Annotated regarding landlord/tenant obligations (thanks for the link though, this is in line with what I'm looking for), but it seems to me I'm in a particular legal grey area - this is what I would like clarified. – jbowman Apr 6 '17 at 15:46
  • By the terms of the lease I'm responsible for the utility, this much is clear to me, but I'm more curious how this would likely play out in court if I wanted to push the issue given the landlord has assumed responsibility and there's a five year precedent for such. – jbowman Apr 6 '17 at 15:46

I haven't checked Montana law, but in most states if the landlord fails to repair something or pay a necessary bill, then you can do so and take it out of the rent.

If it is a repair, you generally have to given a notice of 14 days or something like that. (E.g., "Either fix the toilet by February 14th or I am going to have it fixed myself.")

If the bill is for a critical necessity, like water or heat, you do not need to give any notice.

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