Rental Properties, Vacant Time, and Utilities

Oh, the joys of being a landlord.  Many military families find themselves renting out property, either by plan or by lack of other options.  One of the small, but important, hassles of owning a rental property is dealing with the utilities when the house is vacant in between tenants.  Whether it is just a few days, or a few months, you usually need to keep the utilities on while the house is vacant, and you need to be sure that you are getting the bills.

If you have a property manager, they should be taking care of this for you.  As I’ve said before, I have a super-duper property manager for our house in the Hampton Roads area.  I’m so glad not to have to worry about these details with that property.  However, we own another house in Maryland.  Due to the way rental management contracts are written in Maryland, we have chosen not to have a property manager for that property.  We have an amazing contractor who handles the physical needs of the property, and I deal with the fiduciary stuff.  Unfortunately, that includes the utility accounts when the house is vacant.

Most utility companies have some variety of automatic name change program where the owner or property manager can have the bills automatically switched back to their name and address when the tenants leave the property.  This is a very good thing.  We had it on our house, or so I thought.  Then, our house was vacant for a spell this spring.  I asked my contractor to keep an eye out for gas and electric bills coming to the property address, but none arrived.   As summer progressed, I became worried.  The new tenants had set up their service, yet still no bills for me.

I tried calling the gas and electric company, but with moving and time differences, I could not get through to them directly.  I finally sent an email via their customer service email address and then engaged in a ridiculous series of emails until I was finally put through to the right department:  property managers.  Whoohoo!  They confirmed that I did have an outstanding bill, sent me the details, and I paid the bill online.  Perfect.

Of course, nothing can ever be that simple.  I’ve just received a letter stating that the bill was not paid and informing me that it will go to collections.  I’ve tried to log in to my online account but seem to be missing one piece of information.  And bless them, Navy Federal won’t let me pull up my online statements right at this second.  The frustration is making me mad.  I’m sure I’ll get it all sorted out today, but what a poor use of my time.

The point of all this ranting is to ensure that you have a solid plan for paying the utility bills while a rental house is vacant.  It is a small detail, but if the bills don’t get paid, it can result in legal action and negatively impact your credit rating.  Much easier to deal with the issue before it becomes a problem.

Happy landlording!  (Grrrrrr.)

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.