2

The title of this question might need some work, because my question is really two-fold.

I live in a rented Townhouse in Maryland, USA. Water and Sewage costs are separated because the county provides well water for free, but not sewage.

A few days ago I received a bill from a sewage company "NWP". The bill is a single charge with no details. Just "Sewage Fee ".

The number seemed shockingly high for what I have paid for water plus sewage in the past, so I called the company and discovered that I am being billed for the usage of the entire "community" split based on the number of residents in the Townhouse (just my wife and I). The company also told me that it was impossible for them to even tell me how much my unit is using because there are no meters installed.

So my first question is whether or not this is even legal. I'm not sure if sewage is considered a utility like water and is subject to the legal protections, and I also don't know where I would find those protections (I just recently moved here from a different state). My gut tells me this shouldn't be allowed because it discourages conservation. I can't conserve usage because when the bill comes, I'll have no idea what I actually used. But this is just a gut feeling and I'd like to know section and paragraph if I'm going to do anything serious with this.

My second concern is that this isn't mentioned anywhere in my lease. The only time the lease ever mentions sewage at all is one time at the top with the line:

Tenant Pays For: TENANT PAYS FOR GAS AND ELECTRIC, AND SEWAGE

The "Utilities" section does not mention Sewage in any way and it is absent from the rest of the document.

I was told during the tour and today at the office that I only pay for my own usage. Unfortunately this was verbal and is not in the lease. After I escalated at the office to the manager, the manager admitted that this is a lie, but since it's not in writing, I think they know they're safe.

If I had known that I was on the hook for my neighbor's heavy water usage, I would not have signed, and the lease completely hid this information from me. Do I have any case for breach of lease terms or something like that? I feel like socializing sewage costs is important enough to have been noted in the lease, and it would have affected my decision.

In summary:

  1. Is it legal to socialize sewage where I am not provided with my own usage? If not, how should I proceed?
  2. Is there anything I can do with the fact that this was not mentioned in the lease terms?

Thank you.

3

Your sewage provider is a “Public service company” under Maryland law:

(x) (1) “Public service company” means a common carrier company, electric company, gas company, sewage disposal company, telegraph company, telephone company, water company, or any combination of public service companies.

(ee) “Sewage disposal company” means a privately owned public service company that owns or maintains facilities for the disposal of sewage.

The Public Services Commission sets the rates:

The Commission shall have the power to set a just and reasonable rate of a public service company, as a maximum rate, minimum rate, or both.

The utilities code paraphrases this in other provisions:

In accordance with the provisions of this article, a public service company shall charge just and reasonable rates for the regulated services that it renders.

There is no legal process involved in your situation, since it is a political matter what constitutes a just and reasonable rate. You can write letters of protest, but the commission has the power to set the rates. You can, however, investigate whether the charges were actually approved. You do, however, have to contact the utility before filing a complaint with the commission.

The landlord has zero control over rates set by the government, so they cannot reasonably be expected to contractually commit to any particular rates. However, if they overtly lied to you about the terms of the lease, you might sue to get out of the lease, but the chances that you would prevail in such a suit are negligible.

  • Thank you for all that information, it's very helpful. Sad to see I don't have any real recourse, but I appreciate the warning off the bat here. – TechnoSam Jun 4 '18 at 19:04
1

This is no merit whatsoever, legally, to your concerns.

  1. Is it legal to socialize sewage where I am not provided with my own usage? If not, how should I proceed?

Yes. This is perfectly legal. No law requires sewage to be billed based upon usage and often it is not.

  1. Is there anything I can do with the fact that this was not mentioned in the lease terms?

It was mentioned in your lease terms very clearly and says you have to pay it. You do have to pay it.

  • 1
    I contest the claim that it was mentioned very clearly. The method of billing was completely absent and two different employees of the office lied to me on two separate occasions about how it was going to be billed. – TechnoSam Jun 4 '18 at 18:55
  • @TechnoSam How it is billed isn't material. The relevant and material point is who has to pay for it. – ohwilleke Jun 5 '18 at 1:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.