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I live in Layton, UT, USA and I have a neighbor who owns a home he rents out. For the last four years he hasn't seen a water/sewage/garbage bill for the property. He assumed that it was getting sent to the rental address instead of his personal one, and that the tenants must have been taking care of it because he never got a notice saying that his account was over due.

Well now the city is saying he owes over $4,000 in back pay for all the water and services over the past four years on the rental property. He found out that four years ago the city switched to a new utility billing software. It turns out that during the migration, his utility account for the rental property was lost, thus resulting in the lack of bills and over due statements.

Can the city legally force him to pay the full amount that he should have paid even though it is clearly the city's fault? I tried to find laws about this sort of thing, but my Google-fu is lacking when it comes to legal questions.

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    Did he sign a contract saying he would pay for those services?
    – jesse_b
    Apr 23 at 18:43
  • @jesse_b There is an agreement on the utility application, I assume that counts as a contract?
    – Mr. Spock
    Apr 23 at 19:33
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    Yes and sorry that was sort of a rhetorical question. He did sign a contract in which he agreed to pay fees for the services provided. Not receiving a bill isn't some sort of free pass. I'm sure they will work out a payment plan but there is a 0% chance he is getting away with simply not paying for services that were rendered.
    – jesse_b
    Apr 23 at 19:47
  • @jesse_b That, I think, would be a valid answer. Apr 23 at 19:58
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    I think your neighbor is being more than a little disingenuous here. Surely the rental contract he gave to the tenants specifies who pays for these services ... ? And even more surely - if the tenants decided to suddenly start paying these services directly instead of through their landlord they would have negotiated a proportionate decrease in rent ... ? Seems to me that landlord neighbor has just happily been pocketing the service payment portion of the rent he receives and now wants to pretend ignorance. He had a duty to resolve this within the first few of months of not receiving a bill.
    – brhans
    Apr 24 at 15:19
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Up to any time bar in a statute of limitations: yes

By using the services, your neighbour incurred the debt. The debt did not become due and payable until the bill was issued. It doesn’t matter when the bill was issued.

In most jurisdictions, there is a statute of limitations with a time limit on how long after a debt was accrued it can be pursued. For Utah, the limit is 6 years so your neighbour is liable for all of the past 4 years.

Given the circumstances, the utility may look favourably on proposals for discounts and time to pay but that will be a commercial decision, not a legal obligation.

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  • I wonder if Utah has worded its statute of limitations on such accounts to only start the running of the period of limitation at the point when they are no longer billing to your account. In other words, as long as you still have an open account and receiving services, you remain liable for old payments forever.
    – Upnorth
    Apr 30 at 15:29

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