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All city of Seattle tenants living in buildings with three or more units are covered under the third party billing ordinance. Third party billing is when the landlord is billed by the utility company and then passes the cost on to the tenants living in the rental units. The landlord is billed for utility usage based on the entire building’s charges or master meter, and then divides the bill up and sends it to individual units. Tenants are charged based on the divided total bill, rather than their individual utility usage. Sometimes landlords use billing companies to divide and calculate the bills for each unit. These companies may be based outside of the state, but they still must conform to third party billing rules for all units located in the city of Seattle. It is legal for landlords to bill tenants for utilities, and to use out of state billing companies, but they must conform to the obligations set out in the third party billing ordinance. The ordinance requires landlord and billing agencies to disclose detailed information to tenants about their bills and to be transparent about their billing practices.
Landlords must inform tenants of any new billing practices. Each bill must include the name, address and phone number of the landlord or billing company, and must detail each item the tenant is being charged, including service and late fees. It must also include beginning and ending meter readings for sub-metered units, the due date and date late fees will be applied and past due balances. Statements must also detail a process for disputing billings, as well as an address for submitting disputes to the landlord or company.
The ordinance also limits the amount of service charges, late fees, and NSF check fees a landlord can collect per month. Landlords must keep bills for master metered or other unmetered utility services on file for at least two years and have to make those bills available to tenants for inspection and copying if the tenant requests them.
Tenants who think they are being incorrectly billed must send a notice to the landlord or billing agent (whoever is identified as the responsible agent) within 30 days of the billing in question. The billing agent or landlord must respond to the concern within 30 days. If no resolution can be reached with the landlord or agent, the tenant can file a complaint with the Seattle Office of the Hearing Examiner or opt to take the landlord to Small Claims Court.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.